I’m extremely excited to be speaking at WordCamp San Diego about starting my blog and finding my groove, my frustrations and hurdles, how I overcame them, the many tips I’ve learned along the way, and the tools I use.
I started blogging when I was ten years old, almost five years ago. I thought it would be fun and I wanted to share the fun things that my family and I were doing. Also, my mom blogs a lot for fun and for work and she encouraged me to get started.
When I first started blogging, I used tons of adjectives—I mean A LOT of them— in every post and it sounded a bit silly. My early posts also had exclamation points after every single sentence, sometimes two, three, and four of them because I was I was only ten and I thought everything was AWESOME!! Fabulous!! So cool! and Totally amazing!
Proving I Was Serious
I started with a simple free theme on WordPress.com to prove that I could stick with my blog and actually use it. After all, why would you pay for something fancy if you weren’t going to use it? After two years of blogging at WordPress.com, I proved to my parents that I could stick with it and finally got to transition to a self-hosted WordPress site. I worked with my mom to design a brand new WordPress theme and I got to pick my color palette, create my own logo, and choose the design elements. My dad then built the theme and taught me how to use it. The whole experience made me feel really special.
My blog has helped others stay positive and inspired my friends to do fun things with their families. For example, my friends Alaina and Julia subscribe to my site, read my posts, and leave comments. Alaina and her family have actually done fun things together based on my site! Hearing that and knowing at least one person cares what I am writing keeps me going and inspires me to keep blogging.
But it’s not easy. At times I would get so frustrated and I would cry, and cry, and cry. There were times when I wanted to give up and I had a lot of road bumps along the way, okay maybe some were giant mountains in the road, but obviously I kept going or I wouldn’t be blogging today.
Blogging Is Hard When…
- You don’t know what to say. I get writers block all the time. I don’t know what to write and nothing is coming to mind. I would try to force something out and it ended up sounding choppy, incomplete, and didn’t match the style, voice, or theme of my website.
- You compare yourself to other bloggers. I used to compare my posts and writing to my mom, Jennifer Bourn. I thought her posts were amazing and thought I could never be as good as her.
- You criticize or second-guess yourself. A lot of the time, I would think that my posts and writing weren’t good enough or were terrible. I would second-guess my posts, too. Well, I don’t know if this is good, maybe I shouldn’t post this.
- You think your posts must be perfect. I always thought I needed every single detail about every single thing that I did, which makes it a lot harder to finish a blog post. I thought every post needed to be the best post and really long and it stressed me out! I don’t have time for that!
- You feel like you never have enough time. I stressed about posting every week, or twice a week, or whatever I thought I should do. But again, I didn’t have time for that between soccer, dance, and school. I would publish a few posts and then go weeks without posting. I struggled to find a schedule that worked for me.
- You don’t know how to use the tools you need. When I had first started, I had no clue how to use Photoshop or the WordPress dashboard and its tools. I still don’t know how to do everything by myself and sometimes that makes blogging especially hard because it’s frustrating.
The most important thing was that I actually started my blog and that I wanted to learn more about it and get better.
- Not sure what to say? I started using the notes app on my phone for ideas. On vacations or at school events, I take notes on what we’re doing and how I felt. That way, I can come back to those notes later and remember everything and my posts practically write themselves.
- Comparison Depression? I realized that I am unique and so is my perspective. I don’t want to be like everybody else because that gets boring because soon people end up reading a bunch of the same thing. I know that my angle is different and it fits me and the way I want to do things. I realized that I had to stop comparing my posts to my mom’s posts—and sometimes we write about the same things—because she has a different goal, a different audience, and a different style… plus she’s been doing it way longer!
- Critical of my writing? I needed to be patient with myself. I’ve been practicing and gaining experience these last five years and I’ve only improved. Getting good at something takes time and practice.
- Struggling with perfection? A published post is better than an unpublished post. My posts might not always be perfect, but I get them done, each new post is better than the last, I am improving, and I feel really good about that. Plus, I can always edit them later, right?
- Never have enough time? Don’t force it. Write when you have time. One of the biggest things I’m working on is blogging around my own schedule. I write when have time and when I do I write a batch of posts all at one time and schedule them to post over the next few weeks. As a Freshman, I’m forced to take Health. It’s very boring and I have a lot of extra time during that class. Most people use the time to do homework, but I work hard in class and rarely ever have homework. Instead of secretly scrolling through my Twitter or Instagram feeds, I work on my blog. We’re required to have a Chromebook in class, so I just log into my website and write until the end of class— and I almost always get at least one blog post written!
- Don’t know the tools? Ask for help and just try to learn one new thing at a time. I’ve been slowly learning how to use all the tools I have available to me— I use the Photoshop instructions my mom gave me every time I need to create my featured images. Now, I still don’t know all of the tools well, but I’m getting there. Luckily I only have to ask my parents and I don’t have to pay them, so I have it easier than a lot of people.
I’ve conquered a lot of my blogging hurdles and I’m improving with each post. I’ve also figured out my groove—a style and schedule that works for me—which has made blogging a lot easier.
Figuring It Out
I needed to find my blogging groove. And I needed it to be easy.
Finding My Groove
Lots of things helped me finally find my groove.
I had to figure out the length of posts and types of posts that worked best for me. Long posts or short posts? How much text? How many pictures in my gallery? Is it just a quote post? A video? Over time, I figured out that a mix of post styles works for me. I change up the format of my post based on the topic I’m writing about. A lot of my posts are a little bit of content and a photo gallery. Others are longer and include multiple galleries, like if it was a big vacation or my inside thoughts.
Batch processing images was the best thing I ever started doing. I resize and edit a whole bunch of pictures for several blog posts—featured images, single images, and gallery images—at one time. This way they’re ready to go when I need them and all I have to do is write.
I have school, dance, homework, social events, family events, and family stuff that keeps me pretty busy, so I also needed to find the best times to write my posts so I would actually do it. Today I do most of my writing at school during the free time I have in class or at night while I’m watching Netflix or staying up late with my brother while he plays video games.
Writing about something right after it happened also makes blogging easier because it’s still fresh in my mind and I’m still excited about it.
One other thing that has made a huge difference in my blogging experience is scheduling a whole bunch of posts to publish over time. This way, I can write a ton of blog posts at one time and not have to worry about writing and publishing again for a few weeks. This makes it stress free and easy… and that is definitely helpful during finals!
Tips I’ve Learned
- Content formatting matters. No one wants to read huge blocks of black and white boring text. That’s what textbooks are for. I always break up my text with block quotes, sub headlines, photos and galleries, and bullet lists. Most people tend to focus on the design of your website, but when publishing new content, you also need to think about the design of the content and making it easier to read and more appealing.
- Add quotes or facts. I always try to include quick facts about where we are or the some history about my topic or I’ll throw in a quote or two. This makes your posts much more interesting.
- Grouping images in galleries. Almost all of my posts have a gallery. Scrolling down and seeing picture after picture after picture doesn’t look very nice. By using a tiled gallery, I can group all of my pictures in a mosaic-like pattern and it’s much prettier.
- Write great headlines. This is crucial to your posts. Imagine browsing Twitter, Google, or another social network, looking for activities to do while on vacation. You see two headlines: San Francisco and Fun Things to do in San Francisco For Free. Which one sounds like a better article for you? Creating descriptive headlines will capture more attention and get more people to visit your website.
- The more you write, the easier it becomes. As you continue to write more blog posts, your skills will improve. When I got started, blogging was hard and stressful, but now it is much easier and a lot more fun. I’ve become a much better writer than I was five years ago.
- Create checklists so you don’t forget things. More than once I’ve written a post, published it, then realized that I forgot to add a featured image or replace some of the placeholder content I had in the post. Checklists help me remember everything I need to do and even how to use some of the tools I don’t use everyday.
- Don’t be afraid to be yourself. You should never hide your style and personality in your blog because then it’s not your blog. Write about what you want to write about and what you like. Add your opinions and use some adjectives—just not like I did when I was ten! Don’t be afraid to make your site your own.
- Take the right photos for the space you have. Nothing sucks more than coming home from vacation and realizing that all of your images are vertical and your featured image is horizontal. Whenever I travel, I know I need a good horizontal picture for my featured image, at least a few vertical images to mix up my galleries, and all of my photos can’t be selfies ;)
- Stick to the social platforms your audience uses. For my site, none of my friends or readers use LinkedIn or Facebook, I don’t either. I promote my posts and blog through Instagram and I’m starting to use Twitter more now because those are what my friends and the people I care about seeing my posts use.
My New Platform
During our 2017 Thanksgiving road trip to Death Valley, I started Vlogging on YouTube. This gave me a new platform to use and another way for me to share my vacations and life. This is something I’m still learning and I’m slowly finding my vlogging groove.
I won’t lie… I get really self-conscious when we’re out on a trail and lots of other people are around while I’m trying to shoot my video clips. I really don’t even like my family watching me do it! Sometimes I also get really nervous or speak too fast or mess up and I have to shoot the same video several times. It can be really frustrating, but seeing my final videos come together is really rewarding and worth the effort.
Plus, once my videos are done, I can post them to YouTube and embed them into my blog posts!
The Tools I Use
When working on my blog is fun, I blog more often. So I needed tools to make blogging with WordPress easy.
Things I Use
- Camera+: I use camera plus mainly editing my photos and for the macro super zoom setting for different kinds of pictures.
- iMovie: I basically rely on iMovie for video editing. iMovie makes stringing videos together, adding music, and whatever you want really easy.
- Notes App: I use the notes app on my phone on almost every trip. I take notes on what we did and quick facts and stuff like that so later when I’m writing I can come back to them.
- Voice Memos: I started using the Voice Memos App on my phone last summer during my East Coast Trip. It allows me to record the tour guide and capture all the cool facts for later when I’m writing my posts.
- YouTube: I use YouTube for publishing my videos and embedding on my website—and everyone I know uses YouTube.
- Word Swag: I use WordSwag to create quote posts mainly for social media. It’s easy to use and has tons of awesome fonts and text layouts.
- Photoshop: My blog could not function without Photoshop. I need it to resize and crop all of my images so they fit my site’s design and layout. I have to have certain sized images for my home page, featured images, and post galleries.
- WP 101: My parents use the white label version of WP 101 in their agency, Bourn Creative, to help train their clients. When I wanted to learn WordPress, they made me watch them too.
- Jetpack: Jetpack is a plugin with dozens of modules available that add functionality and features to your website. For my website, I use Jetpack for my blog subscription and the subscribe to comments feature, sharing buttons, my tiled galleries and carousel viewer, and site stats to see information about my visitors. I also use the monitor module to send my dad an email if my site ever goes down and the protect module that strengthens my website security. When building my website, my dad used the infinite scroll and responsive videos modules.
- WP Instagram Widget: I really like the WP Instagram Widget because it looks nice in the sidebar, showcases my photos, and promotes my primary social media account. It shows my nine latest posts along with a “Follow me on Instagram” link.
- Simple Page Ordering: Simple Page Ordering is a plugin from 10up that lets you reorder the pages in the WordPress pages dashboard by dragging and dropping them in the order you want them to be in. My parents like to keep the pages organized in the same order as they show up in the navigation.
- Google: Google is extremely important to me because I use it find facts and information for my posts. It’s also a major search engine I need to conquer for promoting my site.
What I’m Tackling Next
I have Yoast SEO installed, but I haven’t been using it. I’ve been writing blog posts for a long time, but I haven’t done any of the behind the scenes work to make sure people could actually find my blog posts.
For years, all I really did was write about the fun things I did and shared it with my friends. Now that I’m older and taking my blog more seriously, I want to learn how to optimize my blog posts so they show up in search engine results and more people visit my website.
The first two things I am learning about are:
- Learning to use and write effective HTML titles and meta descriptions. Until recently, I didn’t even know that blog post headlines and titles weren’t the same thing.
- Optimizing my YouTube Videos. I need to write more descriptive headlines, descriptions, and make use of the tags available. Luckily my brother watches so much YouTube that he’s basically a professional watcher, so he gives me tips to improve my videos and sometimes helps me shoot them.
One quote that I really like to describe starting my blog is:
This quote is so true! I was not perfect or very awesome when I started blogging, but over time, I’ve improved my skills, become more confident in my writing, and the more I do it the more awesomeness I accumulate.
It has taken a of of time to find my blogging groove and voice, but it was worth every moment— even those that made me cry.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel at Natalie Bourn to be the first to see the video of my talk.