How to blog, or, ignore my advice

I have three real blogs, by which I mean ones I actually post things on.  I have two others I received by registering at and Blogger.  I almost never sign on to Blogger (a choice, not a critique), and mainly use when I show someone how to start a blog.

I don’t do that often; I’m a poor proselytizer.  But I’m not bad at explaining.

There are two main routes to having your own blog.  The simpler one, for most people, is a blog hosted on sites like or Blogger.  You don’t have to consider domain name, hosting services, or any of that stuff.

It's simple once you know how.You do have to figure out how a blog works, which like many things can seem quite complicated from the outside.  I’m a WordPress fan, but its distinction between Post and Page is not intuitive, and the explanation in the WordPress Codex isn’t much help to a newcomer.

( *** Tech term alert: if you don’t care about WordPress, feel free to skip the next paragraph. ***)

A WP novice doesn’t immediately grasp whether, when, or how to use categories.  She doesn’t necessarily see the distinctions between publish, preview, and save draft.  It’s not obvious how to write a post and set it to appear automatically at a later time. And that’s just the writing-a-post stuff, not the admin controls, the use of plug-ins, or the tradeoffs that come with switching your theme.

The second route to having a blog is to have your own domain (like my, to have that domain hosted (by a hosting service or, for those with lots of tech time, on your own), and to install blog software on your domain the way I’ve installed WordPress on mine.

Automatic doesn't mean intuitive, either.None of that is all that hard, necessarily — but it’s comparable to learning to drive a standard transmission car when you only know how to drive an automatic.  There’s more stuff going on, more that you have to think about, concepts you need to incorporate, skills you need to build.  The effort can well be worthwhile (either for the stick shift or for the domain), but it’s not essential.  At least not in the way that food, shelter, clothing, and shortbread are.

My own impression of a blog, way back when, was “here’s my big thought of the day.”  After nearly four years, I know quite a few bloggers.  Most of them don’t see their blog that way.  Still, you can see the parallel with the (relatively) uninformed picture of Twitter as “here’s what I had for lunch.”

My first blog is a collection of stories by and about people from Cape Breton Island, where I was born.  Most of them aren’t by me.  My second blog began as a way to keep in touch with my parents, who’d been online for a few years but had trouble when it came to reading email, finding items they’d previously read, and opening attachments.

My point is not that you ought to blog for your family stories or to keep in touch with your parents.  Instead, it’s that if you’ve got something you want to share with one or more people at a distance, and you think you might have a number of things to share, then a blog’s one way you can do that.

A longtime colleague and friend has a serious-hobby interest–to preserve his privacy, I’ll say this interest is in Japanese ceramics, because it’s not.   He collects Japanese ceramics, he makes trips to examine them, he meets often with people also interested in ceramics.

He asked about making a web page to summarize lectures about Japanese ceramics, I suggested a blog to accomplish this–far less a technical leap for him than a full-blown website.  I walked him through’s setup.  He made practice posts (so he learned by doing simple versions of the real task).  I’ve spent five or six hours all told helping him maintain and troubleshoot his blog.

He does almost nothing the way I would.  The most recent post doesn’t appear on the main page.  He has white type on a dark background.  He has dozens of photos in a single post.  He has enormously long posts (no “click to read more” for him).  He doesn’t allow comments.

And yet…

He gets email from strangers who thank him profusely for sharing in this way.  Guest lecturers collaborate with him because they’re so pleased to have their material circulated more widely, especially by someone attuned to nuance in the world of Japanese ceramics.  He’s chugged along for two years with a slow rise to about two posts a month.

I’ve learned a lot from helping him.  In particular, I’ve been reminded of the difference between an option, a preference, and a recommendation.  You could argue that his blog might be more “successful” if he changed some of his practice–but I believe he knows what he wants to say, how he wants to say it, and quite a bit about who might want to hear it said.

CC-licensed images:
Tow-away hours image by Brett L.
1940 Oldsmobile manual image by Hugo90.

8 thoughts on “How to blog, or, ignore my advice

  1. Janet, my second car was a stick. I had a 30-minute lesson in how to shift; drove it in herky-jerk fashion for about two weeks (I had to get to work) before I could manage relatively confident shifting.

    I don’t remember how long before I learned to put it into reverse, but longer than I’d wish it had been.

    I tend to remember difficulty at least as well as success. I don’t think that’s necessarily been a bad thing in my professional life; I see that as a greater sensitivity to what newcomers may experience.

  2. Dear folks –

    I am the “Japanese ceramics” collector Dave mentions in his initial post in this thread.

    Dave has been elaborately polite about protecting my privacy, but you can’t really see this example of what he’s talking about concretely without my “coming out” so to speak.

    My name is John Howe and I collect oriental rugs and textiles and am active with The Textile Museum here in Washington, D.C.

    The Textile Museum has free programs some Saturdays that seem to me often to deserve a larger audience than that the 65 chairs in the room in which they must be held can accommodate.

    So I attend, take photos, get permission and the cooperation of speakers to put up a virtual version of their programs on my blog. (I usually have about four in production.)

    When I have such a post ready to publish, I do so then announce it to an international list of “ruggies” of various sorts. My list is over 200 email addresses.

    Here’s the link to this blog:

    My objective is only to provide a larger audience for these programs and I think I largely succeed, in part, because I send to rug clubs who often in turn send the link on to all of their members. So there’s a kind of “cascade” effect. I get emails from all over the world thanking me for making these programs available.

    I did versions of these posts on a rug discussion board for awhile, but the blog works better for my central objective here. Discussion is often so tangential, and the quality of posts in it so chancy, that I don’t miss it at all.

    Now this blog exists entirely because David encouraged me to create it. I find that wordpress is pretty intuitive and so would encourage anyone considering to use it to create their own blog.

    David has “bailed me out” a couple of times when I encountered a problem, but mostly I am pretty self-sufficient.

    Thanks, David

    R. John Howe

    (you can see that I am disqualified from Twitter for life, and you can see why :-) )

  3. John,

    I’m delighted you feel comfortable in identifying yourself.

    I’m happy to have been able to help you start, but Textiles and Text exists because you were willing and eager to, in the words of Sir Tyrone Guthrie, “share with others that which I myself have got great pleasure from.”

    (I should add that while RSS would be another way for John’s readers to keep up with the blog posts, it’s not something to push. Many of his readers are doing well just to access a blog. For those who understand subscription, of course, an RSS feed’s built into WordPress. Successful use of RSS and a reader, just like successful hosting on your own domain, requires a good chuck of knowledge that’s helpful but not mandatory when the desired task is “read the textile blog.”)

  4. A great deal has been said about blogs and other social media applications and the way they democratise media. TO me, part of this democratisation means that a blog can be what you want it to be. Sure, abundant rich media, hyperlinks and lively commenting can be great. But what a blog is depends on what the author wants it to be.

  5. Marie-Therese, I’ve said before that some people take great pleasure in tools as tools. They like playing with tools, they like finding new tools; their idea of a great time is a tool-centric version of the Water Rat’s ideal:

    ‘Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: ‘messing —about—in—boats; messing–‘

    At that point in The Winds in the Willows, the boat crashes into the riverbank. That doesn’t disturb the Rat much; he’s having a great time with his tools.

    And that’s fine–but others want their blog-boat to get somewhere. The somewhere is of their choosing.

  6. Hi Marie-Louise –

    As usual, I’m a little tardy in responding, but I’m struck by a phrase you used. You said in part:
    “…democratisation means that a blog can be what you want it to be…”

    My thought:

    Well “democratization” can be defined variously, but I think I take exception to your notion if it is asserted as anything the blog owner has any control over.

    Yes, he/she can attempt to establish a tone and try to entertain responses equitably, and even to treat all comments as equally important (which, obviously, “democracy or not,” they cannot be), BUT any fool with a computer can at any point interrupt dysfunctionally, even, destroy, any conversation that is going on.

    So I would argue that your assertion is too one-sided and doesn’t recognize adequately that we have a two-sided (actually lots more “sides” than that) dynamic a great deal of which is not under the blog owner’s control.

    We should “try,” but it would be foolish to predict that we could “succeed” in our interactive blog objectvies if we did the “right” things.

    The only ways to do that are to 1) take on a very formidable, monitoring/approving task for all submitted comments; or 2) to largely bar responses, as I have chosen to do.


    R. John Howe

  7. John, I took Marie-Therese’s comment about democratization to mean two things. First, in line with my own thoughts, there’s no “right” way to manage a blog. You don’t have to conform to any expectations at all.

    Obviously there are some common practices that many blogs share: multiple posts, archives, search capability, even comments. But no single one is essential to “blogness.”

    Second, there’s a larger democratization–that of blog software. The commodity nature of hosting and software means that for around $8 a month, a person can have his own domain and host all the blogs he wants. And if he’s not so inclined, he can publish a blog on WordPress or Blogger for free.

    The democratization here has countered the old argument that freedom of the press is a great thing if you can afford a press.

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