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The best way to blog in 2020

Update: This guide has been turned into an up-to-date, standalone website: Get Blogging!

I've been blogging - albeit not consistently on the same site - since 1998. That's a long time in internet years, and in human years, and over time I've conditioned out any self-editing impulse I might have. I write, hit publish, and share. Done.

Because I'm fairly prolific, friends and colleagues often ask me what the best way to start is, in two ways:

1. Their writing ethic: how to actually write and feel OK about putting it out there in the world.

2. Their platform: how to sustainably host a website that looks good and reflect on them well.

I'll take those questions in reverse order. But first, let's address something important:

What is blogging?

The short answer is: it's personal and different for everybody.

Here's what it's not: professional article writing. If you want to go through multiple rounds of editing, please do. If you want to write two thousand word epics about your topic of choice, please do. But it's also okay to write up a hundred quick words and post them without thinking twice about it.

When you blog, you're building up a body of work that represents you online. It's a gateway into your thought process more than anything else. So do what moves you - whether that's short thoughts, bookmarks you like, essays, fiction, poetry, photo albums, and so on. You do you. The only thing that's really important is that you keep doing it.

I can tie every single major advance in my career to blogging. It's been hugely important in my personal life, too. I couldn't recommend it more.

Which platform should I choose?

Let's get this out of the way: if you're looking for a platform to blog regularly, it's not Medium.

That's not a knock on Medium. I used to work there, and I still adore the platform. But you should think of it as a huge online magazine that anyone can write articles for. Shorter updates aren't really appropriate there, and pieces stand alone. It's also most effective if you put your work behind the paywall, these days, which might not gel with your blogging goals. You shouldn't feel bad about writing on Medium - but you should have your own site, too.

Don't use something that isn't designed for purpose: you could use Notion, Evernote, etc etc, but you'll run into problems later on, and you'll make life harder for your audience.

Obviously, I write on Known. I wrote it, so I enjoy it, and I can tinker with it if something doesn't make me happy. But unless you really want to configure self-hosting space and tinker with code too, for the moment I don't recommend that you use Known to blog. (Maybe I will again. Watch this space.)

Instead, my recommendation is WordPress. It just is. No, the interface is not perfectly modern. But the ecosystem is giant, there are a lot of options for customizability, and most importantly, there are apps out there that will help you manage your writing and post effectively. If you feel like spending the time and you have the ability, you can self-host. If you don't, you can use their hosted service. You'll know that a lot of the important stuff - feeds, archives, SEO - is taken care of for you.

A close second, for informal, personal sites, is Micro Blog. As they describe it, it's "the blog you will actually use": a simple service that allows you to write updates of any length via the web and native apps. It supports IndieWeb technologies out of the box (like Known does), and is compatible with the ecosystem of apps. And the people behind it are great.

Finally, if you really want something Medium-like, Ghost is a great choice. Like WordPress, you can self-host, or you can pay them to manage it for you.

Whatever you choose, buy your own domain name if you have the means: that way you can repoint your address to a different provider in the future. So if, for example, Ghost goes out of business, you can shrug your shoulders and move to WordPress without having to tell anyone about your new address.

How can I get myself to write?

Like so many things, practice makes perfect.

My recommendation is this: choose a cadence of no less than once a week, and stick to it for two months. Then see how you feel. Don't limit yourself to any particular length, and don't let yourself spend more than an hour on a post. After that hour, you're hitting publish, no matter what.

You quickly learn that, although your posts will be live on the web forever, they're also ephemeral. People move onto the next thing quickly. And - unless you're actually a terrible person - nobody is going to react badly to anything you write. If it's not a post that captures the imagination, folks will move on very quickly. If it is, it's because it's a great post. And you're almost certainly not a terrible person, so you have nothing to lose.

Here's the other thing you should do: comment on or about other people's posts at the same cadence. The internet is a conversation, not a broadcast. Weblogs are social media; you need to interact with what other people are writing.

One last thing: don't blog about your own blogging. No "I just started a blog!" or "it's been a long time since I blogged". Those are apologies of different kinds, and you have nothing to apologize about. Be bold. Put your thoughts down in writing. I believe in you.

It's a mental leap - I know it is - and an act of bravery to put your thoughts in writing. But there's nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

And ... that's it

Over time, your body of work will build, and you'll find that people are interested in surprising topics. This post on equality of outcome vs opportunity has been the most popular thing on my site for a while now, which I never could have planned or anticipated. The power is in being consistent, and keeping your site online for the long term. (I wish I could have told my 1998 self that.)

People email me about things I've written all the time. My posts have led to newspaper and magazine features. They've led to jobs. And most importantly for me, they've led to friends.

If you're starting a blog - and if you don't have one, you should start now! - I want to hear about it. Get started and email me its address. The time to start is now.


Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

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