Don’t start that blog until… You Set Up Your Tools

This is Part 5 in a series. Here are Parts 1, 2, 3, & 4 if you’d like to catch up…

“I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own tool-box and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work.” - Stephen King, On Writing

To get your blog from idea stage to launch, you’re going to need your own set of tools. Stephen King shares plenty of tools for the craft of writing. I won’t spend time on that, because I hope if you like to write, you will invest in learning how to write well. Instead, I’m going to share the tools that help me blog.

Google Drive

I’ve been using Google Drive for years. Didn’t it used to be called Google Docs? I can’t keep up, but it’s my favorite of all of my tools. Here’s a screenshot of how my drive is currently organized.

Letting you look at my Google Drive is making me feel a bit exposed…

FOLDERS, PEOPLE! Starting from the left, those are all of the things I am or have worked on that needed their own folders. The folder that’s open is my Started/Drafts folder. This folder is shared with Katie the Editor and Tony Peterson the Husband-Designer. I introduced you to both of them in Part 3 of this series.

Having the ability to share and give and receive feedback real time is critical to the way I work. While Tony and I share a home and office in Seattle-ish, Katie the Editor is all the way out in Chicagoland! Because I have Google Drive on my phone, tablet, and computer and can access everything I’m working on from basically anywhere, I can easily communicate with them and make changes quickly.

The process isn’t overly complicated. I draft a post, then put it in this folder, then Katie the Editor gets an alert via text or email that something is there waiting for her editing and remarks. She gets to it when she can, makes her comments, edits, and suggestions, and then we begin the dialogue. When we both feel satisfied, she’ll give me the “Good to Go” and then I take it from Drive and pull it into the next tool…

Wordpress

There are a myriad of blogging platforms out there, each with its own merits. We chose Wordpress for #staymarried because we wanted to customize everything. Tony the Husband-Designer will weigh in next week with a step-by-step for those of you who want to go this route. Until then, here’s what our back end looks like…

This is how the sausage is made…

After Katie the Editor gives me the “Good to Go,” I bring my draft over into this bad boy and start working on formatting… headings, images, hyperlinks, tags… all of the boring administrative stuff that makes a post look good and not annoying to read.

At this point you may be wondering why I’m talking about Wordpress while using Medium. Well, back to the questions I posed to you in the first entry in this series; The #staymarried Blog has a focus on marriage. Since this series about blogging has nothing really to do with marriage, and since I’ve been interested in trying out Medium for some time, I’ve decided to play with new ideas here. I love it here. If you don’t need your own site with multiple pages to support your blog, I highly recommend staying right here. The interface is clean, you don’t need to know any code. If you have things you just want to say, like that journal or once in awhile blog, and you don’t need any styling or branding, this is probably a great option for you. How to Win at Medium by elizabeth tobey has some fantastic insight that can help you get started.

But, if you need multiple pages, a store, or anything extra, you’re going to want to purchase that URL and get yourself a Wordpress site. Stay tuned for Tony’s advice on this…

Here’s what our #staymarried blog Dashboard looks like:

For the love of Pete! Now I’m letting you see real numbers? What is wrong with me?

Invest the time into getting to know whatever platform you decide to use. Understanding the functions of your blogging platform will make the entire process of publishing a post smoother and more enjoyable over time. If, at this point, you’re feeling intimidated by the technology, just remember that you didn’t always know how to use your phone and now you’re a total pro. You can do this!

Photoshop

Images are massively important for bloggers. Tony and I spend almost equal amount of time on the images we create for a post as we do on the writing. Since I’ve always had my graphic designer husband on my Blog Squad, we’ve always used Photoshop to create and edit our images. We have a few standard size templates that we use with the intention of being able to share our blog images across other social platforms. Squares are best for Instagram. Portrait/tall images are best for sharing on Pinterest. It’s also nice to have the hex values for our branded colors stored in our Photoshop pallet.

I’d love to tell you how to use Photoshop for your own blog, but HOLY MOLY, I know almost nothing and what I do know has taken me four years to learn. I’m super good at cropping stuff, putting text on top of photographs, and saving images to the correct size. Smarter people that have much more than my three skills have made tutorials and even classes you can pay for if you want to learn more.

If you don’t already own photoshop, there are other free programs you can use to create images like Gimp and Pixlr. Again, take the time to familiarize yourself with whatever you’re using.

In Part 4 we shared some photo resources that you can use with integrity. I contemplated tucking them in here, but then I remembered that you are grownups and can go back and take another look at them yourself if you need to.

Editorial Calendar

In case you’ve forgotten, an Editorial Calendar is just a fancy way of saying “When you plan to publish What.” Remember, we’re trying to launch a blog that people will pay attention to and look forward to and share. Consistent pace is important. Choose the day(s) of the week you’re going to hit publish and then stick to it. I recommend you publish at least once or twice a week as you get started to give yourself some good momentum. We were able to keep that pace for the first three years which made a big difference in finding our tribe and growing our audience.

So, whether you use a day planner or your Google Calendar or any other variation, use something that will help you plan your subjects and the pace that you’ll publish each post. One of the ways a calendar helps me blog is by considering what seasonal ideas I should be paying attention to.

I might use my calendar to publish about…

  • Family stress around the holidays
  • Date ideas around Valentine’s Day
  • The importance of taking vacations around the summer

Don’t get too strict with seasonal topics. If you do, you decrease the lifespan of your posts. Remember that once it’s on the internet, it lives there forever or until you go back and delete it. Even then, it’s probably going to exist somewhere forever. How does this internet thing even work?

The posts on the #staymarried blog that still get the most traffic are considered “evergreen”… they don’t depend on a holiday, or time of the year, or current event to be relevant. “How Being Defensive is Hurting Your Marriage” is one that still gets shared regularly because I guess people get defensive all the time forever and ever.

Pinterest

Pinterest is the tool I use when I start to feel like I don’t know what else to do with my blog. People are smart and generous and I’ve found many articles on writing prompts, how to create an excellent About Me page, and annoying things to avoid on a blog. My favorite thing to use Pinterest for is design inspiration. I just love looking at pretty and well organized things. Remember, of course, we’re being inspired. We are not stealing other people’s work.

This is my Words, Typography, and Design board on Pinterest. Pretty, right?

You’ll also use it later on as a great place to share your work.

Your homework for today is to set up your own tools.

Get familiar with them. Ask your Blog Squad for help and recommendations on other tools you might use. Share here in the comments if there are some vital tools I left out or others you’re wondering about.

Also, let’s chat! Now that we’re in Part 5 of the series, are there questions you have that I haven’t answered yet? My hope is that by the end of the series you really will have everything you need to launch a great blog. Comment and let me know what other topics you’d like me to cover. Has this stuff been helpful so far?

Next, Tony Peterson is going to tell you exactly how to purchase a URL and then set up your Wordpress blog. Follow him so you don’t miss his entry.

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