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A Free Guide for Blogging and Hosting

How to Start a Blog: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers

5 min read

If you’re a writer, it makes perfect sense: You can use a blog to serve as your author platform, market your book or find new freelance writing clients.

But where do you begin? Though you’ve got the writing part down, the rest of the process can be overwhelming. Hosting, themes and all that other techy stuff can stand in your way for years.

Well, today is the day that ends. We’re here to help you navigate every step of starting a blog, from choosing your domain name to publishing your first post.

Here’s how to start a blog as a writer:

1. Pick a domain name

First things first: Where are people going to find you online? As a writer, you are your brand, so we recommend using some variation of your name.

To check availability, simply visit Bluehost and click on “new domain.” Or, search this handy domain-name checker!

Even if yourname.com isn’t available, you might find it with a different ending, such as yourname.co or yourname.io. If you’re super committed to this whole writing thing, you can also  try tacking a “writer” onto the end of your name, as in susanshainwriter.com.

Alternatively, you could opt for a creative blog name — but remember your interests and target audience may change as the years go by. When I started blogging in 2012, I focused solely on adventure travel and named my blog Travel Junkette. After expanding  my niche and services, I switched to susanshain.com because my name won’t change, no matter what I’m blogging about.

Although it wasn’t a huge deal, I wish I’d started out using my name as the domain, and would advise you not to make the same mistake I did.

Once you’ve settled on your domain (or domains, if you’re like many of us writerpreneurs!), don’t wait to buy it. Even if you’re not ready to start a blog right now, domains are cheap — and you don’t want to risk losing the one you want.

Before you actually click “purchase,” though, you might want to read the next step; we’re going to tell you how to get your domain name for free.

2. Purchase a hosting package

Now it’s time to choose a web host. Your hosting company does all the technical magic to make sure your site actually appears when people type your domain name into their browser. In other words, it’s pretty important.

While we use MediaTemple to host The Write Life, it’s typically better for blogs with lots of traffic, so you probably don’t need that if you’re just starting out.

For a new blog, try Bluehost. It’s used by top bloggers around the world and is known for its customer service and reliability. Bluehost’s basic hosting plan costs $3.95 per month — and as a bonus, the company throws in your domain name for free when you sign up.

Be sure to put your purchase (and all the purchases listed in this post) on a business credit card and keep the receipts; as investments in your business, they’re tax deductible.

3. Install WordPress

We’re almost through with the techy stuff, we promise!

You have several different choices for blogging platforms, but we like WordPress best. Not only is it totally free, but it’s easy to learn, offers a wide variety of themes, and has an online community and abundance of plugins that make blogging accessible to everybody.

You can read comprehensive instructions for installing WordPress on your new blog here. Once you’ve completed that, you can officially log into your blog and start making it look pretty.

4. Put your site in “maintenance mode”

While working on your blog’s appearance, you might want to put up an “under construction” sign to greet visitors.

You don’t want any potential clients or readers to Google your name and find a half-finished site. (You may think you’re going to finish setting up your blog tomorrow, but we all know how writers procrastinate when there are no looming deadlines!)

To set up maintenance mode,  just download this plugin. On your maintenance page, you could even include a link to your email newsletter or social media profiles so visitors have an alternate way of getting in touch with you. When you’re ready to share your blog with the world, simply deactivate and delete the plugin.

5. Choose a theme

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff! Your theme determines what your blog looks like, and you’ve got a lot of options to choose from. Yes, there’s a wide range of free themes, but if you’re serious about blogging, the customization and support offered by paid themes can’t be beat.

Here at The Write Life, we use Genesis, which is one of the most popular premium themes available. Another popular and flexible theme is Thesis. On my first blog, I used Elegant Themes, which has a wide selection of beautiful themes at a reasonable price. All of these themes come with unlimited support — essential when you’re starting a blog.

If you want your blog to be a marketing tool for your writing services, you might look for a theme with a static home page. That way, your site will look professional and appealing to everyone — whether they’re there to read your latest post or hire you for a project.

Whatever you do, make sure your theme is “responsive,” which means it automatically adjusts to look good on any device. Since more than half of website visits are made on mobile phones, this is crucial for your blog’s aesthetic.

6. Create a header

I think it’s always worth getting a custom header for a new blog.

You can ask your favorite graphic designer, create one with Canva  or order one on Fiverr. I’ve had great luck getting headers and other graphics designed in this online marketplace, where thousands of people offer their services for $5 per gig.

7. Write your pages

Though you’re starting a blog and not a static website, you’ll still want a few pages that don’t change.

8. Install plugins

Plugins are great for everybody, especially those of us who are less comfortable with the technical side of things. Think of them as apps for your blog; they’re free tools you can install to do a variety of things.

Though having lots of plugins can undermine the functionality and security of your blog, there are several we recommend everyone look into

9. Install widgets

If your blog has a sidebar, you might want to spruce it up with a few widgets, aka small boxes with different functions. That said, the minimalist look is in — so skip this step if you want to keep your sidebar simple.

10. Purchase backup software

Don’t overlook this important step just because you don’t have content yet! It’s better to install this software early than to start blogging and forget until it’s too late.

Free options exist, but I’ve never had good luck with them — and for something as important as my entire blog, I don’t mind paying a little extra.