Starting a WordPress Blog – 1
A friend of mine recently retired and both she and her husband are considering starting blogs. I told her a while back I’d write a post on my experience in starting a blog. It will turn out to be several posts of which this is the first. I’ve only blogged on WordPress, hence the title. To be a little more specific, I’ve mostly blogged on wordpress.com, which is the easiest way to go if you don’t mind a few restrictions, such as use of advertising or complete freedom in modifying themes. But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are other blogging platforms that may be wonderful but WordPress has been my home for 4 years and I like it. As the leader to the wordpress.com website says, Start a WordPress blog or create a free website in seconds. Choose from over 200 free, customizable themes. Free support from awesome humans. It probably says a lot that I’ve never had to deal with their awesome humans because their online support and support forum usually answers any question I have. And you read correctly, it is absolutely free until you want to add certain features to your blog (which you probably will if you stay with it) and even then, costs are very reasonable. The truth is that what you can have is seconds is a domain for your blog (its web address), along with a name and a theme, which you can think of as the shell in which your posts will appear online. Having a living, breathing blog will take somewhat longer.
If I had waited until I had everything just so before I launched Older Eyes – Bud’s Blog, I’d probably still be waiting to publish. But I did have a Blog Name in mind, Older Eyes. And I did have an essay written in Microsoft Word titled Feeling Old, which was the original topic of my blog. WordPress provides, in addition to a Blog Name, a Tagline that also appears in the blog header. I think my original tagline was Thoughts on Feeling Older. A general topic for a blog is useful in that it gives you a direction in which to move but if it’s too specific, it can make it hard to come up with posts. Even in my late sixties, I’m not always Feeling Older, so I eventually changed my tagline to Reflections from an Older Perspective, which gave me plenty of breadth while preserving the Old Guy theme. A nice thing about WordPress is that you can change almost anything on the fly, so it’s best to get your blog up and published and evolve it as you go, since being a disciplined writer takes practice.
One of the first things you’ll select when you start your WordPress blog (after name and tagline) is a Theme. A Theme is your blog layout and there are hundreds of them, many free (mine, by the way, is Sapphire, which is old and inflexible compared to newer themes. Kinda like me). WordPress makes it very easy to try on different Themes, either before you publish or after you are up and running. For me, getting it just so was part of the blogging experience. Themes in general have a header that shows your Blog Name / Tagline and for most Themes, the header can be customized with a picture or background of your choice (mine is those Older Eyes staring out at you from the top of the page). On some themes you can change colors, fonts and page layouts but be aware that when you blog on wordpress.com – free, your choices are limited. If you want complete customization, you need to pay an annual fee.
When someone visits your blog, they will generally arrive at your Front Page. I’d guess that 90% of the blogs I read show their latest posts on their Front Page, always listed in reverse chronological order, newest first. I had an introduction that I wanted readers to see first, so I used a Static Front Page that was essentially an introductory post. My posts were on a Blog Page which you reached by clicking a link in the introduction. If you look at my current layout, you’ll notice that the introduction is at the top of the page, followed by my latest posts. This is done by making the introduction a Sticky Post that always comes first. That way, readers get to read my introduction but don’t have to go hunting for my posts. I’ll deal with how to choose later. There are reasons to have additional pages. For example, you might want a page that lists posts on a certain topic or a photo album. These can be done easily in most themes but it sometimes takes some fiddling to get it to look like you want. Remember, fiddling is part of the fun … you are creating your own online magazine. You can have your blog up and published but continue tweaking things to get it just so. There probably won’t be many people stopping by at first anyway.
Themes also generally provide an About Page, which gives you a chance to tell your readers who you are, bringing up the issue of anonymity. Having nobody know who you are gives you a certain freedom to post whatever you want and one of my favorite bloggers maintains a scrupulously anonymous blog. Older Eyes has always had my face in the header (and About Page) and I’ve always used my nickname, Bud, so I assumed friends would know it was mine but I’d be anonymous to strangers (except those at the NSA). Eventually, there was enough original material that I decided to add a copyright statement to my front page and I was no longer anonymous. I also created an Older Eyes page attached to my personal Facebook Page, mainly to publicize my work more. It didn’t do much for increasing my readership but it’s fun. At any rate, you get to decide how much you tell about yourself on your About Page (which you can retitle – mine’s called About Bud) and in your posts.
Your pages will also include Menu Areas that allow your readers to navigate your site and connect to other sites online that you recommend. Most Themes include a Pages Menu that lists the pages that make up you blog as links that take your readers to the pages. This is ofter displayed horizontally below the header but in my Theme, Sapphire, it’s in the sidebar running down the right side. Some themes, by the way, offer left and right sidebars or different Menu Areas. Menu Areas can be customized to include different menus (for example, Recent Posts and Favorite Blogs), text (e.g. – Quote of the day), a Search Bar, and graphics. You can even add a button that allows readers to subscribe to your blog my email. Of course, one of the advantages of blogging on wordpress.com is that other WordPress bloggers can subscribe to your blog by simply clicking the Follow button that will show up at the bottom of your page. The contents of the Menu Areas are mostly controlled using what WordPress calls Widgets, which I’ll talk about as I get into the mechanics of setting up your WordPress blog in Blogging on WordPress -2, probably Saturday.
Of course, you could just dive in and start like I did. It’s not all that hard. But I’ll still offer my thoughts in several posts to come.