This post was originally part of the paid subscription option of Notes called Field Notes. In these subscriber-only posts, I share stories, tips and resources to be a happy and healthy freelancer. I’m opening up access to this Field Notes post, because it answers one of the most common questions I get from new writers, and I want to make it easy to share the answer far and wide. To get access to all Field Notes posts, subscribe here for $7/month (or $70/year).
This isn’t the first article you’ve read about how to start a blog.
I didn’t think I’d ever write this, because so much exists on the topic. But I’ve discovered a huge hole.
Writers regularly write me for advice on starting a blog, and I always try to share resources along with my own learnings — but I can never find this article I’m searching for.
No one is asking me how to make money writing a blog. Or how to top search results with a brand-new blog. Or how to become famous.
Writers just want to know how to put their writing out there.
And, I’m not kidding you, that guide simply doesn’t exist.
So here it is. Fair warning: This guide is quick and dirty, because the process of getting your first writing into the world is quick and dirty. It shouldn’t be complicated.
How to start a blog as a new writer
Writers tell me they want to start a blog for simple reasons: To write. To experiment with ways to share what they’ve written. To spread ideas that might help someone. To be part of a conversation.
When your motivation is simply writing itself, the prevailing advice about blogging is useless and unnecessarily overwhelming.
What your blog does not need when you’re a new writer:
A custom domain.
A complex theme.
Plugins and widgets.
An email list.
Its own social media account — or any promotional plan.
What your blog does need when you’re a new writer:
It’s really this simple. If you’re starting a blog to share your writing, start with the writing. Worry about the other complexities later.
And, I promise, you can worry about just the writing — the internet isn’t as complicated as it seems.
Steps to start a blog for free
Follow these steps to get a blog up and running today:
Choose a blogging platform.
Upload what you wrote.
What’s not on this list? Brainstorming your domain name. Tinkering with your header. Configuring your theme. Those are time wasters that distract you from writing.
Also not on the list? Designing a website. Learning HTML. Joining an affiliate network. Choosing plugins. These can help you build your brand and supercharge your site down the line, but they’re not necessary now.
Most importantly, what’s missing? Pulling out your credit card. Not even once. Start a blog on coffee shop wifi or a library computer if you have to. The beauty of being a writer is all you need are words, and words are free.
1. Choose a blogging platform
A blogging platform gets your writing on the internet.
Here are three platforms that let you start a blog for free with zero tech know-how:
WordPress.com: The most popular blogging platform, WordPress is built to support every kind of blog, from your earliest musings to your multi-million dollar media company. Start on WordPress.com (not .org) to get free web hosting, a site builder, built-in themes (i.e. design) and a publishing platform all online. You can upgrade to paid services to get a custom domain, themes, plugins and more — but you can start with a free site like yourblog.wordpress.com and a built-for-you theme where all you have to do is plug in your writing.
Medium: Even easier than Wordpress! You can sign up and start posting in seconds on Medium, a shared platform for writers. It strips away most of the design options, so you can focus on the words. Keep your stories free for readers, or join Medium’s Partner Program to restrict access to Medium subscribers and earn money from what you write.
Substack: Similar to Medium in its stripped-down simplicity, Substack is known for building paid newsletters (this newsletter is on Substack). But it’s basically a super-simple blogging platform! There’s no website building; you just sign up and write. Your posts are all published at your Substack (yourblog.substack.com), and you can opt to send them to subscribers by email. You can also add a paid subscription option to restrict some of your posts to paying subscribers and earn money from your writing.
These platforms are more complex, and they charge a monthly fee to publish your website. But they’re there if you want to build a website around your blog and use a variety of page designs for things like promoting books, selling products or hosting a podcast.
Either is a good option if you want to set up a more robust and professional website but don’t want to deal with the complexities of setting up a self-hosted site with a WordPress CMS (which is the overly complex advice you’ll find in most blogging guides).
2. Write something
If you’re thinking about starting a blog, I bet you’ve already got some content in the can you’re itching to share. If not, get started.
You can write a blog about anything.
You can even use a blogging platform to publish writing from non-blog genres, like poetry, essays or fiction.
No matter what you write, keep these elements in mind:
Know your audience: Who do you write for? If you don’t have readers yet, what kinds of people do you want to read your stuff? It’s totally OK for you to be your audience, too! Blogging for introspection is a great place to start. Your audience can develop along the way as you better understand who responds to what you’ve written.
Name your purpose: Why do you write? For each post — not just for the blog as a whole — think about what you want to achieve by creating it. This can be as simple as personal reflection or creative exercise, so don’t fret too much about it.
Think about the context: With everything you write to publish, think about where it’ll be published and when, and how it’ll be distributed. For a book, you might imagine a reader picking up the paperback in a bookstore next year. Similarly, for your blog, imagine the reader coming across a link you share on social media, for example. What are they thinking? How might they feel? What will they bring to your writing as they read it?
If you want to write a bloggy blog, learn a bit about how to utilize the online medium. Think, for example, about the context of reading it on a mobile phone… from the toilet.
Blog posts are usually broken up into digestible pieces that make them easy to scroll and scan. Eschew long paragraphs, and add white space and highlight key information with elements like bulleted and numbered lists, bolded text and subheadings. And don’t forget links to add more value for the reader!
3. Upload what you wrote
Whatever order you did them in, you’ve got something written and you’ve signed up with a blogging platform. To get your writing into the world, all you have to do is paste it into the blogging platform.
The process is unique to each platform, so explore the details on your own. For most, though, just look for a button that says something like “new post.” Paste a title in the title spot, and the rest of the post in the body editor.
Now press “publish.”
You’re a blogger!
What about all the other stuff?
As you build your blog, you’ll run into options to do more with it, like:
Allow comments from readers.
Create an “about me” page.
Connect a custom domain.
Change the site design.
Add special descriptions and headlines for SEO.
Add categories and tags.
Develop an email newsletter.
Monetize with affiliate links, display ads or products.
Promote. Build an audience. Find a community…
These are all great. I encourage you to explore those options, experiment with them, learn what you like and build a blog you love.
But none of these are necessary for the simple goal of putting your writing online.
Start with that, and add the rest slowly as you want to. For now, use your blog as a catalyst to write, an exercise in letting other people know you’re a writer, and a space to experiment with what your writing can be and who you can become as a writer.
As you get more comfortable with that, look to the other guides for all that advice on building an audience and making money from your blog.
But for now, don’t put that kind of pressure on your writing.
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