A literary explorer’s guide to blogging

In October 2011, I registered the domain name ayearofreadingtheworld.com and started this blog. I didn’t know it then, but the website would change my life.

The original quest to read a book from every country in the world in a year turned out to be mind-blowing in ways I’d never anticipated: it reconfigured my imagination, reading and writing, and brought me into contact with authors, translators and readers around the globe. What’s more, the international following this blog received initiated a stream of thrilling invitations and opportunities that continues to this day.

Highlights from the past eight years include speaking at TED Global and the launch of my career as a published author, now with three books to my name.

With much of the world on lockdown for the foreseeable future as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it strikes me that many people might use the time at home to start a blog. As such, I thought I’d share some tips gleaned from my experience. Feel free to add yours at the end!

  • Choose an obvious name It can be tempting to be funny or clever with website titles. That’s fine if you’re setting up something just for yourself, but if you want to create a site that will appeal to a broad range of people, you need to make sure that no-one feels excluded by in-jokes that don’t translate. A simple, clear name that gives some idea of what your blog’s about is good. It also means that if someone searches for your subject area, your site will have a chance of featuring in the results.
  • Be specific There are hundreds of millions of blogs out there and an awful lot of them are brain dumps. Again, that’s fine if you’re just looking to make a site for your amusement (and of course there are some blogs like this that draw huge numbers of readers), but if you’re keen to develop something with greater reach, this approach will make it harder for your website to find an audience, at least at first. A better strategy is to pick a specific interest, goal, or issue and focus on that. You can always broaden out further down the line.
  • Keep it simple It’s possible to spend hours and a lot of money on designing your blog (and most platforms offer technical guides and support with using their tools – also, often, for a fee). However, my advice would be to avoid unnecessary embellishments – at least until you have more of an idea of whether blogging is going to become a habit. Select a basic template and start drafting your first post. Use (properly credited) pictures to illustrate your posts if you have them, but don’t worry about sticking to text if no obvious illustrations suggest themselves. If you want, you can add more images and upgrade the site once you’ve got a better idea of what works and how people use it.
  • Start small When you launch a blog, it can be tempting to contact everyone you know and tell them to check it out immediately. Indeed, this is what I did when I published my first AYORTW post in October 2011. If you’re not launching a project that needs participation, however, try to resist this urge, at least for a few days. Even if your subject matter and approach is clear in your mind, it’s likely that it will take a little time for the tone and format to settle. Be prepared for a few lonely days when you hardly get any clicks and make getting some good, consistent posts in place your first focus, so that, when the readers do flood in, they’ll have plenty of great content to enjoy.
  • Be boundaried Think carefully about how much of your information you want to give away on your blog. If you’re writing about sensitive or personal subjects, you might want to consider anonymising references to the people in your life or even giving yourself a pseudonym. One of the earliest ever blooks (blogs-turned-into-books), the now-defunct Diary of a London Call Girl, took this approach with great success.
  • Keep it accessible The language of the internet is informal and conversational. If your blog takes off, it will get readers from around the world, many of whom may not speak fluent English. As a result, it’s best to avoid unnecessarily complicated expressions and to explain references that may not be obvious to everyone.
  • Edit obsessively Conversational does not mean sloppy. The best writing often reads simply but communicates complex ideas. It has precision and power. In most cases, this comes from painstaking reworking. I’m a big fan of reading aloud. Once I have a complete draft of a post, I always read the whole thing out. It’s amazing what your ear catches.
  • Credit borrowed content properly Lots of people don’t do it, but I think it’s important to credit any images or other elements you use that are still in copyright and weren’t created by you. (You should also make sure that the picture in question has an appropriate Creative Commons licence, which you can filter for on photo sites such as flickr.com.)
  • Be kind to yourself Even with meticulous editing, reading aloud and double-checking, you are going to make mistakes. In my time, I have published posts about the non-existent countries of Dijibouti and Cormoros. I have misspelled writers’ names and made countless other slips. It feels awful when you realise you’ve messed up like this (and, if you’re unlucky, someone out there will leap on it as an opportunity to give you a good kicking). But try not to worry about it. As my time sub-editing for newspapers and magazines has taught me, not even the best writers are immune to bloopers. And at least with a blog, you have the opportunity to correct your mistakes after you’ve hit ‘Publish’.
  • Have a policy on changing published posts One of the lovely things about blogging is that it is an extremely forgiving medium. If you spot a typo or a missing word once a post goes live, it is easy to fix the mistake. I don’t think there’s any issue with correcting technical slips like this. The journalist in me, however, does have a bit of a problem with changing the argument or factual written content of posts after publication without being clear about what you’ve done. I think we bloggers have a duty to be transparent about what we publish and so, if I have to alter the content of something I’ve written after I have pushed it live, I will add a note explaining what I have changed. An example is the entry I wrote describing how I decided which countries my year of reading the world would involve: midway through 2012, I altered the list to include Palestine, so I changed the post accordingly and added a sentence in bold at the end to explain this.
  • Accept that not everyone will like your stuff I’ve been incredibly lucky that almost every interaction I’ve  had as a result of this project has been positive. All the same, it’s inevitable that when you put yourself out there in the way blogging requires, some people won’t like it. When you get unpleasant feedback, bear in mind that some of it will be valid (and will give you an opportunity to improve what you do). Some of it, however, will say more about the person who wrote the comment than about your blog. It might take a while to work out which category applies, so resist the urge to fire off a barbed response until you’ve had a bit of time to process what you’d like to say. If nothing else, a nasty comment is evidence that what you’ve written has made an impact.
  • Feel free to ignore me It’s your project, after all. The joy of a blog is that it’s your own free space to do with as you wish. Who am I to tell you how to arrange yours?
  • Have fun If this blogging thing takes off, you could be doing it for a long time, so you might as well enjoy it!

I’m trying to take my own advice at the moment because, nearly nine years since I launched this site, I have just started a new blog project. It’s still at a very early stage and I’ve no idea how it will develop, but if you’d like to take a look, I’d be delighted to know what you think.

113 responses

  1. Hey mam..
    Can you please teach me? like how can i regular post my blog and most important thing is that i am using WordPress on my Mobile.Is it okay to post my blog through my phone?

  2. Very Useful tips.
    I hope I be able to make my blog successful one day.

    I think I made a mistake by giving my domain name

    selinathewritertheblogger.com

    I am so new and not famous. The domain name is like showcasing myself. Could have given something related to what I write. Any feedback?

  3. Very helpful post Ann. Thank you for all these great suggestions. Although I started blogging 3 years ago but I was not regular. Now that we are in lock down and I have plenty of time I have started writing blogs again. This time I wish to be regular from now on!

  4. New blogger in the pandemic, reporting for duty 🖐️ – this is just what I needed to read this evening as I’m starting out, thank you! Concise and clear, everything you say a good blog should be.

  5. I love your blog. It taught me a lot. From taking inspiration from your blog I to hosted my own blog. Plz check out an tell me about my errors
    arnav592746269.wordpress.com

  6. 5 years ago I had also AYORTW project. It was a new year’s resolution to read all that was in the top 100 of the Canon of worldliterature. It took me two years and I had to scramble. My major thought afterwards was that science, history and art are very Eurocentric. I kept a diary of this experience, with the intention to use it to write a book about this experience, but instead got inspired for a completely different literary project.

      • I finished last week just the third part of these series en next week I want to launch a promotion campaign in which I want to include a giveaway of the first part that can be read as a standalone. You’re welcome to download your own copy at this moment.

  7. I started my blog days ago and I’m surprised I’m on the right track. Thank you very much for sharing this ☺️

  8. Hello Ms.Morgan ,
    This blog was very very helpful to ne as a beginner . And just wanted some advice from you ma’am.
    I’ve chosen fashion and life style as the main subject of my blogs I had to questions and would be grateful to receive answers from you :
    1. Do fashion blogs attract good amount of readers or should I be chosing another platform for this say youtube or instagram?
    2. Is it necessary to purchase a domain? Because I’ve registrered to a free domain , what are the benefits of purchasing a domain?

    • Hi. Congratulations on starting your blog. I’m not an expert on fashion blogs, but there are certainly some successful ones out there. I would suggest starting with a free domain and seeing how it goes. If you enjoy it, you can always upgrade it to a paid domain name later. Good luck!

  9. This is a great post! I am new to blogging and tend get very obsessed over each little mistake I catch after posting something. I also know that it can be tempting to obsess over how the home page looks, when really having focused content matters more. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Hey thankyou for your guidance .I am one of those your speaking about, I started my blog recently but so confused about the various topics as content ,could you please suggest me regarding this

  11. Great tips
    thank you
    I have just launched mine, I have had it in my mind for so many years but never had the time to actually sit and write.Let’s see where it will take me 🙂

  12. Thanks & much appreciated coming from an accomplished writer and a journalist. Insightful comments on the intricacies involved with blogging especially the parts where you say that it is ok to falter or choose to ignore & enjoy your blog.

  13. Great article, thanks for the tips. I launched my blog last month and I really struggled with the name. I didn’t want it to be too specific in case I ever decide to deviate away from the main topic (Careers), so I went for a name that could be applied to any given subject. So far I’m happy with how the site looks and feels, but I think as bloggers we are all pretty nitpicky, so I need to learn to be more relaxed about it.

  14. This is helpful 😊, i’m just starting full-time work from home.. Bit difficult from the get go in the beginning.

  15. I was attracted to your blog by your mission, “To read a book from every country of the world in a year.” That’s so inspiring, and I’m following you right away.

    Yes you are right: not everyone will like that you are blogging. I realized this early enough in my blogging journey. Looking back now, I’m grateful that the harsh criticisms I received didn’t make me give up.

  16. Hi there I’m new here , I really enjoyed the read, you really have me some insight and direction.. thank you , I’m trying to grow as freelance writer and photographer.. who like to reach the right community of creative sorts like yourself…

  17. Pingback: A literary explorer’s guide to blogging — A year of reading the world | FESTIVAL for FAMILY

  18. First, it felt great to read your blog, thanks for sharing your learnings beautifully!😊 Second, I have a few clarifications.
    You asked the budding bloggers to be specific about the content they deliver in their blogs, isn’t it? How possibly could that aspect be incorporated given the vastness of topics? Also, could you share a tip on setting boundaries for a blog?

  19. Very helpful post Ann, especially for me who is restarting my blogging after almost 10 years of not doing it. With authors like you is where I get my inspiration at all times. I will surely a regular visitor of yours.
    By the way, I made a challenge for myself to do blog visits to different blogs for 21 days. I hope you can support me by visiting my blog and leaving your footprint too.

  20. Great work Ann .
    Keep up the good work.
    I am so inspired by you I just started my blog today and it didn’t have many views.
    I was feeling down.
    Found your at the right time .
    If u ge time do check out my blog.

  21. This was very refreshing to read. I used your post as a checklist for my blog – and as it seems, I am off to a pretty good start. Thank you for the advice, and good luck with your new blogging venture – I’m sure it’ll be great.

  22. I hope I had seen this blog post 5 years ago when I started my blog. I didn’t know a lot of these things and to this day I have difficulty editing a post after I have hit publish.

    Today, I have realized that my blog works best if I use it as a log of everything I enjoyed & sometimes I hated.

    Thanks for writing this.

  23. Fantastic advice from someone who sounds like they’ve been around a block or two. Thanks for taking the time to explain what has worked in your experience to those of us starting out. It is very much appreciated.

  24. I have been writing blogs of matters that are serious, like politics, economics. travels to far away countries etc. Now I culminated my sojourn by writing a book “The Corona Syndrome” 175 pages of worthy information and quotes of celebrities.

    It will be on Amazon by the end of this month .. i need your support for obtaining a copy and reading it. For all you know it might help you. mikerana.com

  25. This isn’t just useful advice for people starting out, but for writers like me who’ve been on WordPress for years without any significant showing to back it up. Thanks for all these great tips, Ann!

  26. As a fairly new Blogger, I wanted to thank you for the useful tips. I appreciate your writing style and look forward to reading more of your blogs in the future

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