An year of blogging

Akshat Jiwan Sharma, Sat Sep 21 2013

An year ago I started blogging on 1UP. I was an avid reader of their cover stories. Their analysis on video games was fantastic and it prompted me to share my own experiences of playing games. Sadly 1UP closed soon after I started blogging on their website. Due to this unfortunate incident I decided to start my own blog.

I had a variety of blogging platforms to chose from. Both wordpress and blogger were fantastic options but there were some limitations. On a free account wordpress forced advertisements while I found it hard to customize blogger themes. It was then that I decided to make my own little platform. I had some experience in programming and I thought it would be a good way to test my skills as well.

Those days I was learning couchDB and I discovered that couch apps allowed you to serve html applications directly from the database. So I created a simple couch app as a blogging platform. It worked well but it was too much work for me. I spent more time in configuring the app than writing actual posts. I needed something simpler so I could focus more on my writing.

It was then I found jekyll, a static website generator that takes in markdown formatted pages and generates simple html pages that can be hosted anywhere. Luckily github provided free hosting for html websites and even allowed me to map my own domain name. I learned a new formatting language in the process, markdown, that made blogging much more fun than it was before.

However jekyll had problems of it's own. Once more I made up my mind to create my own blogging platform but this time making use of the lessons that I learnt along the way. I created specter a platform that had the simplicity of jekyll and the power of dynamic blogging platforms. I have been using it ever since and I am pretty happy with it.

Through trial and error I have learn a lot of things about blogging in general that I would like to share with you. It might come in handy if you are thinking about starting a blog of your own.

Choose your writing tool wisely.

An editor is where you will be spending most of your time writing posts, rewriting them and fixing typos. So make sure it is something that is easy to use and does not get in the way of actual writing. Some of the things I consider important in any good editor are a good spell check facility, minimal interface and an ability to display stats for your post (the most important one being the word count).

Beyond this it pretty much depends on your preference. Personally I prefer to use abstract an editor that I created. It is a very simple, preview on demand,editor. It gives a you full width interface for you to type on and a full width interface to preview your posts. Unlike most markdown based editors there is no split screen for continuous preview. So you can focus on your typing while you are constructing your posts and switch to preview mode when you want to see how it looks. It understands markdown and saves all your drafts locally in the web browser. I have written more on abstract and how it works here.

Make your blog more readable.

There are a lot of excellent resources on the internet to help you improve the readability of of your blog. But the general principles are

  1. Choose colors with high contrast. Black on white is an excellent choice
  2. Choose a larger font. The reader should not have to strain his/her eyes to read your stuff.
  3. Write small paragraphs.
  4. Write in a clear, direct and easy to understand language.
  5. Don't use too many widgets if you can. It slows down the loading of the page and does not add much value to your post.
  6. A simple design can help to keep the reader focused on what you write and it is easier to maintain.

A good writing environment (so you don't feel that writing is a chore) and high readability are the two traits that any good blogging platform has. Apart from these there are some things that are not necessary but it might make blogging a lot more fun for you.

  1. Learn markdown. It is not that hard and it will make you a better writer.Especially on the web.
  2. Try to write at least one post a week. You might find it hard to come up with ideas initially but after a while writing a post will become effortless. I have written 60 blog posts in the year that is 5 posts in a month so I can say that it is achievable.
  3. If it is a personal blog don't limit your self to a single topic. You must have lots of interests in real life so there is no reason why you should not write about it. I don't read blogs for expert opinions, unless it is on technical subjects like programming, but to rather take in the experience of the writer and make it my own. A blog should be a reflection of who you are in real life. What do you do? What are your tastes? How do you live your life? are the questions that a reader should be able to answer. A blog where all the posts are on the same topic is not much fun to read.

In the end blogging is a very personal activity. It is more about getting to know yourself than it is letting the world to know you. That is the magic of writing, any kind of kind writing. It forces you to delve into your self and see things that you never thought were there before. So don't be afraid to dig a little deeper and see what comes out.


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