The first order of the day is to get your blog properly setup and configured. This is not nearly as difficult as it sounds, and what you do here, can really help you in the long run.
The first I’ll discuss is the basics of setting up your blog to make your life easier. With technology, it’s easier than ever to complicate everything — to the point where you just don’t want to do it, anymore. I’ll keep things simple here. I also won’t cover every single topic I can think of — just the basics you should consider.
There are a lot of great books and websites out there that can offer you in-depth tips and tricks. Use them as much as you can. There are lots of smart people who share really useful info with the world.
In this guide, I’ll talk about using WordPress, because after years of blogging and using different systems like Blogger and Typepad (and some others I can’t recall the names of), WordPress is my favorite for a number of reasons.
- It’s stable and well-supported. It’s not just a side project of some folks who needed to do something fun and fulfilling on the weekends (that happens more often than you think). It’s managed by real people who do it for a living. And it’s actively supported. Sometimes they make changes to the interface that drive me nuts, but overall, it’s worth the hassle. There’s a ton of help and documentation about how to different things, but you can do a lot with just a little bit of information. There are many, many themes (designs) that give you a lot of different options, and they are also well supported.
- You can do a lot with a little — for free. You can sign up for a free blog and be publishing your work in a matter of minutes. There are a lot of different customizations you can do, but you don’t have to do many at all, to get a functioning blog that looks good. Simplicity is important, if you just want to focus on your writing, instead of configuring your “technical platform”. And it doesn’t need to cost you anything other than your time and attention.
- It has a lot of SEO stuff already built in – like “human-readable” urls, correct html, consistent page designs, and the ability to optimize your images so search engines love you. That is so important — I think one of the reasons I rank pretty high in Google, is precisely because I am on WordPress.
- You’re automatically connected with a wider community. WordPress has a ton of bloggers on it, and they’re all connected via the Reader feature. You can easily find others on WP who write about the stuff you’re interested in, and they will show you the tags that people are using, so you not only find out who’s writing, but what they’re writing about the most.
- They make it really, really easy. Signing up is easy. Setting up is easy. Blogging is easy – and you can also password protect and schedule your posts, if you like. Promoting is easy, too. For example, if you want to tell the world whenever you post to your blog, you can hook up Publicize to post to FB and tweet automatically whenever you publish. That’s important for your wider community.
I could list many, many more reasons why WordPress is my blog platform of choice, but the five above should be enough to convince you to give them a try.
In this section, I’ll talk in some detail about the basic things you want to do for proper setup.
- Picking the right theme (design)
- Setting up your blog with the most important elements – sidebars, widgets, sharing, and pages
- Making your blog readable
- Managing publishing, comments, and ongoing discussions
- Making sure search engines can find you
You can read the tips and tricks in order, or you can take them piece by piece in whatever order you like. You can skip around and do what you please, and any one of these changes can make a positive difference. We don’t need to “boil the ocean” here – dealing with chronic health conditions is a big enough challenge, let alone adding a regular writing practice to the mix. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like, but even in its simplest form, a blog can make a positive difference in others’ lives.
Dear blogger – I want to help you become better at what you do.
Especially if you blog about chronic health conditions (spanning mental health to physical conditions), you’re in a great position to help others who share your same situation and concerns. Many folks with chronic health issues are housebound and don’t have a lot of contact with the outside world. Some are isolated by their conditions, and many have lost their social support network because their one-time friends just couldn’t deal with their problems.
You know first-hand what it’s like to be hampered by chronic conditions, so your voice can help others to better understand their world, as well as feel less isolated.
When they first started picking up steam, about 15 years ago, blogs were a novelty. They were something only egomaniacs bothered writing, and only voyeurs bothered reading. They were dismissed by “serious readers”, partly because the medium had not had a chance to mature. But over time, the depth and breadth of blogs written by genuinely good writers, has won over countless readers. And some bloggers share the same regard and influence as well-known journalists – some of them enjoy even more.
I’ve been “chronic blogging” about my ongoing recovery from repeat mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI/concussion) since around 2008, and it has been a long, slow process developing both the blog and a readership. I started out wanting to just help others with information I gathered, as well as sharing my experiences. And there were times when I just didn’t write very much at all. Also, at the start, I was very verbose… rambling… overly emotional… kind of a mess. But some of my readers complained, and I stopped whining constantly.
I wanted to do something really useful, not just vent all the time. And so I changed things up, tried different approaches, and I learned from my mistakes and successes alike. As of this reading, my blog Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind (brokenbrilliant.wordpress.com) has had 433,743 views from 192 different countries. That’s a result of posting nearly every day for the past several years – 2,615 different posts since 2007.
By far, though, the most gratifying thing has been the feedback I’ve received from others. There are a lot of people like me out there, who feel isolated and alone and without access to support. Their feedback has been so welcome, so fantastic, so heart-warming. It’s not always easy to hear people’s accounts of their own difficulties, but knowing I’ve helped ease their pain – even just a little – makes all the effort worthwhile.
It’s still an occasional challenge to keep from whining – and sometimes I don’t manage to suppress it very well. But I’ve found a lot of satisfaction from researching my own health issues and sharing what I find with others, as well as publicizing the work of other brain injury and chronic health challenge bloggers. There really are a lot of great folks doing fantastic work out there – and we can always use another strong voice.
If you’ve ever thought about starting your own blog, or you’ve got one going and you’re looking for ways to increase your exposure and grow your readership, I may be able to help. I have been working with this “web stuff” for 20 years, now, so it’s second nature to me. But it’s not obvious to most folks. SEO, in particular, is shrouded in unnecessary mystery (probably to keep consultants employed), however you’ll probably find that common sense trumps gimmicks every day.
Ultimately, it’s really about building community – reaching out to others who need your help or could use a friendly voice – and making us all stronger in the process. I’ll do my best to provide truly useful tips and tricks, without overwhelming you.
Try doing some of this a little bit at a time, and really give a lot of thought to each piece of the puzzle. It’s a discovery process, and it may take months for things to turn around for you, but I believe that these changes can really help you a lot in your blogging.
If you’ve got something to say about managing a chronic health condition, and you want to help others, by all means, join us with your blog. It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of dedication and discipline, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.
I ran out of steam the other night before I could really go into the benefits of ignoring bad advice – medical and otherwise. But that’s good. I’m paying attention to my energy levels, and I went to bed earlier last night than I have done in months. I’m still tired, but at least I got some rest.
Anyway, when I think about bad advice, I’m probably a poster child for ignoring it. Not – mind you – because I just don’t feel like doing what others tell me to, but because I usually do exactly as others tell me, and then I find out all too quickly that they’re full of sh*t and I have to change my direction… or else. I’m willing to try just about anything, especially when it’s suggested by a qualified professional. I guess it’s just my luck that the things they suggest are often the worst possible things I could do – and I have to find out the hard way that they’re completely wrong in my case.
Take, for example, the years I spent in excruciating, crippling pain, about 20 years ago. I suddenly started having terrible pain in my joints. It truly sucked. I also had a small patch of rough skin on my face that got dark. I went to a doctor, and they told me they needed to do some tests. So, they did their tests, and they came back with a diagnosis that was a very serious, relatively unknown ailment that people didn’t know much about at the time. They told me that was the reason for the rash and the pain, and I should see another specialist to help me figure out this serious situation.
Long story short, I spent the next several years not only in excruciating pain, but also living a life that was just a shadow of what I could have been living. I went to plenty of specialists and followed their advice, was compliant with their orders… and my condition just got worse and worse and worse. Until finally I did something that was not in keeping with their instructions – I went outside and got some exercise. And I stretched. And the next day I felt remarkably better. I continued to get exercise, changed the shoes I was wearing from hard soles to soft, and I stretched. I also quit smoking and started eating better. And wonder of wonders, the pain abated.
I can’t say it’s gone away entirely, and some days it’s back with a vengeance, but I’m not living in constant debilitating pain, day in and day out, anymore.
And I seriously question if their diagnosis was correct to begin with.
Now I realize that there are some situations where you should definitely NOT disobey your doctor’s orders. But if you’ve followed their instructions and things just aren’t getting better, you owe it to yourself to try something different.
Likewise with work (or, should I say, over-work?) My current job, I see now — after a frenetic year — is a setup for overwork. The two people I report to are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and their boss is out in a completely different spectrum, period. They either want EVERYTHING DONE RIGHT NOW, or they just don’t care if/when things get done. If I follow either of their leads, I’m toast. Seriously. Even though one reports to the other, they don’t seem to have any interest in behaving as though there is a chain of command. It’s odd. Why would they complicate things like that? Chains of command make some things — like getting work done — so much easier. I guess it’s a case of the person in charge not wanting to be the heavy… or maybe the subordinate person threatened to quit, and they know where bodies are buried, so they have to be placated. Or maybe everyone is just weak? Who knows. Probably the latter. Ocam’s razor strikes again.
Anyway, enough about them. I just have to follow my own lead, do what I feel is best, and trust that I know myself and my habits well enough to manage them properly. Of course, there’s always the chance of my “issues” showing up and getting in the way, but that’s nothing new. I just need to be aware of that and manage it.
But whatever I choose, in all things, I need to take care of myself. Make sure I get sufficient rest and exercise. Eat right. Don’t bombard my body with sugar and cheap carbs, and make sure I get away from the work, on a regular basis. Step outside. Get some fresh air. Stretch the gunk out of my bones and muscles. Do what makes me feel good and strong and keeps me going.
Just keep going. Take care of myself. Be smart. Keep going. So long as I do that, I have nothing to lose.