Saturday, August 20, 2016

How To Start a Blog | A Step by Step Guide

Recently I asked for feedback on my blog via this survey to make my blog better for you guys and to find out what kind of posts you guys wanted to see. One of the requests I got was for advice on how to start a blog. I know how much I love my blog, so I'd love to help you guys create your own!

While this is a step by step guide, I'd just like to put out a disclaimer first that this is not the only way to start a blog and you don't have to follow all these steps for your blog to do well. I think every blogger probably starts their blog a bit differently and as we grow, our blogs grow, too! So don't put too much pressure on yourself or feel like you have to do every step I give. I'm just trying to make this as thorough as possible to hopefully help you with any questions you might have!

How to Start A Blog

Think about what you want to blog about.

First, before anything else, I would figure out what I want to blog about. I don't think you need one specific niche, but you want to figure out what topics you want to talk about on your blog because it might help you pick out a name and it also will help you to get your first few posts up! Some general topics you might want to blog about are college, organization, books, beauty, fashion, health (mental or physical), or lifestyle. There's way more types of blogs, but those are just a few to get you started! You can also pick a few - like maybe you want to be beauty and lifestyle blog or a college and fashion blog.

If you're not sure, there's a couple questions that I think will help you figure out what to blog about. What are you passionate about?  What do you like to do in your free time?  What do you know about or what could you give someone advice about?

Pick a name...or two.

Yay name time! This is what I thought was the the hardest part of getting my blog going. For your blog's name I think you want to pick something that's durable (i.e. you won't get sick of it after a month or two and can grow with you), original (you don't want 12 other blogs to have the same name), and reflects you and your blog.

So if you read that and you're wondering what I mean by all that, I'll give you a few examples. If you name your blog "Eggs and Toast" (I don't know. I'm just trying to think of something.) it will be difficult if you decide a food blog isn't for you and you want to turn it into a beauty blog.

If you have a few names in mind and can't decide, you might let the next few steps help you along...

Pick a platform.

A platform is basically where you're going to blog. The main ones are Blogger, Wordpress, and Squarespace. I use Blogger because it's free, easy to use, and I just felt comfortable when using it. If you'd like to see a comparison of the 3 platforms I mentioned, check out this post here by Helene.

Create your blog.

For this I can only tell you how to create one on Blogger. Assuming you've already signed in to Blogger with your Google account, press the "new blog" button on the left side and fill out the info in the box that pops up. You'll see you have to type in your blog's title and address which is why I said the next few steps might help you pick you blog's name. There is a chance that the name you want for your blog is already taken, in which case you might want to pick a different name. If you like your name you can try putting in a different variation of your blog name (ex. courtneylthings).

You'll also be asked to pick a template to use for your blog. You don't need to sweat this choice - you can always change it later. You can also modify the templates very easily or replace it with a template your purchase. If you're wondering my blog is based on the Simple template, with lots of customization. Speaking of which...

Play around with your blog template and layout. 

Again, I'll be most helpful for those of you who are using Blogger, but you should play around with your template no matter which platform you choose! Chances are you'll want to make a few changes, and now's the perfect time to make them!

If you are using Blogger, there will be "Template" available on the left side of your screen. Click on "Template" and then hit "Customize." If you go to "Background" you can make the background of your blog anything you want - including plain white by choosing "transparent." Play around with adjusting the widths and choosing different layouts, too. You'll also see "Advanced" in your menu here which is where you can change fonts and add CSS if you like. Blogger is also super nice and highlights the area you're changing. You also don't have to worry about messing up your template because you have to hit "Apply to Blog" for it to take effect. If you don't like what you've done, just hit "Back to Blogger."

In Blogger there will also be a "Layout" available on the left side of your screen. This is where you can add in an image for your header, a little about you photo and text (Click add gadget and choose image. Write your bio in the caption.), a blog archive, popular posts gadget (how to customize it here), and so much more!

Get social media accounts for your blog.

I know some people just use their personal social media accounts for this, but if you want to keep the two separate go ahead and make a few social media accounts for your blog! You don't have to get every social media platform for your blog. The two that I would say you should have right away are Twitter and Instagram. Instagram because I think it's a great way to show more of who you are, practice taking great blog photos, and get to know other bloggers and Twitter because it is a great way to talk to other blogger and share your posts. You'll probably want to add these to your blog so check out this tutorial or this one here.

Now that you have social media accounts for your blog, use the same photo of yourself for your social media and blog so people can recognize you easier and follow some of your favorite bloggers - feel free to start with me! You might not have posts to share right away, but you can start introducing yourself and let people know your blog is on it's way through your social media accounts! 

You don't have to post every day if that is too much for you, but I would aim to post at least three times a week on Instagram and at least twice a day on Twitter (again you can have more socials for your blog or use different ones, but these are the two platforms I think are most helpful when starting).

Side note: Do NOT do follow for follow comments or follow and unfollow someone in hopes that they will follow you. Instead just follow people who's blogs you like and then engage with them by liking their posts, retweeting/sharing their posts (feel free to tag them in it), and leaving thoughtful/genuine comments. I'm going to check your social profile/blog if I see you've been engaging with me online, not if I see you trying to follow for follow.

Brainstorm blog post ideas.

So you've decided what topic you want to blog about, picked your platform, made your blog, and created your social media accounts for it. Now it's time to start thinking up blog post ideas! I would sit down with a pen and notebook and write down any and all blog post ideas that come to mind. If none are coming to mind you might think about what topic(s) you want to write about write down any tips you could give on that topic or what comes to your mind when you hear those topics. So if you chose books you might be able to tell people about a book you just read, how to read books on a budget, or make a list of the books you hope to read this year.

If you'd like some more tips on coming up with blog post ideas, here's how I come up with content ideas and here is a list of blog post ideas. Aly has 9 strategies to help you brainstorm blog post ideas here and how to make the most of your list of blog post ideas here.

Draft your posts, take photos, and publish!

Once you have some blog post ideas, it's time to get to making those posts. Some people find it easier to take photos, then write and some people find it easier to write and then take photos. Feel free to experiment, but I would probably focus on the writing first. Sometimes having the post written gives me some ideas as to what I want my photo to be and I would say focusing on writing is best when starting out because people are more likely to come back for great writing than great photos alone.

Anyways, pick one post from your list of post ideas. Write your thoughts on the subject, leave it for a day or two, and then come back to read over it again. Edit your writing for spelling and grammar mistakes and look for ways you could improve it - Could you add more information? Could you link to another blog or website that has more information on the subject? If you want more advice on writing, Aly has 5 tips to help you write great blog posts hereAlso, make sure the font is big enough (and dark enough) to be read. You can change the size (in Blogger) by highlighting the text, clicking the "tT" icon and choosing "large" or "largest." 

Now it's time to take photos! Don't feel like you have to have a fancy camera - you can use your phone or a point and shoot camera you've had for years. My advice when taking photos would be to buy a plain white poster board (or two) and photograph next to a window or natural light source. Stick to just two or three items in a photo to keep it simple. Take at least two or three photos to make sure you get a good, clear photo. You can read more about how I take photos hereYou can also look at the blogs you like and study their photos to see what angles they're shooting from, what props they're using, and how they lay out what they're photographing. 

When you have the photos you want, you can use a free site like PicMonkey to edit your photos - it's super easy to use (and I share what I do to edit here). Once you add your images into your post, (at least in Blogger) you can click the image and make it smaller or larger so it fits your blog better.

Once you have your post written and edited, your photos taken and added to your post, it's time to publish! You can schedule your post if you'd like it to go live at a certain time or day. Personally, I like scheduling because it keeps my posts coming consistently and I can work ahead (which makes it way less stressful). I also think it's super helpful to start by just posting new posts one or two days a week (like Wednesday and Saturday).

Promoting your first post.

As most any blogger will tell you, hitting publish on your post is not the last step! Now that it's published, it's time to start promoting the post. On Twitter write a short blurb and include the link to your new post ("My first post is now live! Give it a read here:") and be sure to include an image. Share the post at least one more time that day and keep sharing it once a day until your next post goes up! You can also tag retweet accounts (I have a list of the ones I use here).

On Instagram share a picture (your title image, photo related to your post, your laptop with your new post on the screen, etc) and let people know in the caption what your first post is about and where they can find it (ie direct them to the link in your bio).

While you might not get comments right away (or for a few months), check and respond to comments on your blog and social channels.

Some other tips and ideas for creating a blog:

Shaguna & Kaylee from Gold & Hearts said "Someone told me have 5 blog posts finished before you launch and that is such a good idea!"
- If you want to take a bit to get your layout just right and create a few posts before launching your blog, it can be a good idea to write a short post explaining that you are working on making your blog the best it can be and when you'll publish your first post. You can also use this as a chance to introduce yourself and tell your future readers a bit more about who you are and why you want to blog!
- If you want to design your own logo you can use Canva or PicMonkey (both free). I'd recommend using a transparent background and about 1140x300 for size. Then just play with fonts and icons to make your logo reflect your blog!
- Have a little photo shoot with a friend or tripod so you can get some good photos of yourself to put on your about page, use as social media profile pics, and maybe even use them in a post or two!
- Get involved in the blogging community. Leave comments on your favorite blogs (it's okay to leave a link to your blog at the end of your comment), comment on social media posts, and join twitter chats.
- Don't put pressure on yourself! You don't have to post X times a week, take photos that are as perfect as your favorite blogger, write in a certain style, or get X views a day to be a blogger. Just do what you like and be yourself. You'll figure out your writing and photography style as you go, learn tricks along the way, and eventually have a community that reads your blog! 
- If you want to see what a few other bloggers' advice for people just starting a blog is, you can read this post by Faith with 4 tips for new bloggers or this post by Eleanor with 5 tips for new bloggers.

I really hope this post was helpful! I tried to pack it with as much information as possible, but I could still expand on each of these topics! Let me know if this post was helpful, if you'd like to see more posts for new bloggers, and if there's anything else you need help with in the comments!

Related Posts: My Blogging Essentials, 20 Photo Prop IdeasCreating Your Best About Page


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

2016 Apartment Tour | Living Space

Last month I gave you your first look at my new apartment with a tour of my bedroom. Now a month later I've (finally) gotten around to posting a little tour of the rest of my space! I spend most of my time in the living room and if you cook at all, I'm sure you know how quickly the kitchen can get messy. Anyways, once I finally had both my kitchen and living room clean and presentable, had decent lighting, and felt up to taking some photos I started working on this post!

Apartment Tour | Living Space

We'll start with the kitchen since it's the first room you're in once you enter the apartment. As you can see the apartment is very open which, along with the glass doors to the balcony, makes it feel really big. 

Apartment Tour | Living Space
Apartment Tour | Living Space

It's pretty much just your basic kitchen! I like keeping the counters bare and only have practical things out for decoration. I have my owl cookie jar and owl candle that I've had for the past few years next to some plates to put cookies or treats on when I have people over. Then by the stove I have two silver utensil holders for convenience - and yes I do have the black utensils in one holder and the colorful utensils in the other. 

My favorite little spot, aside from the owls is this cute Kitchen Conversions cutting board I found At Home. Since I put it next to my canister with flour, it makes me feel like it's a little bakery (even though I almost never bake). 

Apartment Tour | Living Space
Apartment Tour | Living Space

I have my little dining nook in the corner of the living room. The dining table and chairs are from my mom. My mom having extra furniture to give me is definitely one of the upsides of her addiction to decorating. And as you can see I keep my aloe vera plant on top of the table. I have it sitting on a round place mat I picked up from Walmart so I can move it around the table without scratching it. 

Apartment Tour | Living Space 
Apartment Tour | Living Space
Apartment Tour | Living Space

Then above the dining table, there's a little built in shelf at the end of the kitchen cabinets. The shelves aren't tall enough to put books on, so I have two owls on the top shelf, a little plant on the middle shelf, and the Willow Creek Angels my mom has been giving me every year since I started college.

Apartment Tour | Living Space

I probably spend the majority of my time in the living room. I decided to go with blues and whites in this room, matching with the Van Gogh poster painting I have on the wall opposite my couch. I had the Van Gogh painting up in my last apartment and I just really liked having it up after it's been sitting in my family's storage room for years. 

If you saw the tour of my old apartment, the mirror and clock will be familiar. The two framed word art pieces I got at the dollar store for less than $5 (for both!). If you're curious, the one above the mirror says "Wish, hope, dream, and then make it happen," and the one below the clock says "Live every moment, laugh every day, love beyond words." Super cute sayings and I like the fonts and swirls they use, too.

Apartment Tour | Living Space
Apartment Tour | Living Space

Then in the corner I have the antique chair I've had for a few year in my dorms. It's a comfy chair, but it's a mauve color that just doesn't match, so I put this fleece gray blanket on top to cover it. Since this chair is mostly for extra seating, I keep two pillows on it plus a cat plushie (that looks like Marie from Aristocrats and is as close as I'm getting to a furry pet for a year or two). 

Apartment Tour | Living Space
Apartment Tour | Living Space

Now for the best spot, the couch! I was lucky enough to get this from my mom along with the TV and TV stand also in the living room. It's really great to be able to get furniture from family or friends when moving into a new place because furniture is so expensive (on top of the costs of moving into a new place, start up costs, getting internet, and whatever else). Anyways, you'll see I made this spot pretty cozy with pillows and a soft blanket. Perfect for when you feel a nap coming on while watching a movie. 

Apartment Tour | Living Space
Apartment Tour | Living Space

You made it through the tour! I hope you liked seeing the rest of my apartment and hopefully I didn't bore you too much. This space is probably a better example than my bedroom of how I was able to combine old and new pieces in my pieces. As I actually counted up how many items I bought for the apartment, only 12 pieces were new and they were low cost items (like pillows and cheap side tables).

What do you think of my apartment? How do you decorate your home on a budget? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Thoughts on Student Teaching

I always like this style of chatty posts when I read them on other people's blogs, but I always feel a bit silly writing them myself. I either feel like I'm just rambling and the post doesn't have a point or I worry that no one will like it or want to read it. I'm going to just share this though because I have a lot of thoughts on this as it's something that I've been working towards for four years and it's a huge change for me.

Thoughts on Student Teaching

Today I start my student teaching! It's a professional development day so there's no students, but still. It's pretty exciting since I've been working towards this for the last four years. I'm excited to be so close to finishing school and walking away with my degree and certification in December. I'm excited to be working with high school students. I'm excited to be working with other teachers and learning from them for the semester. I know this will probably be a great experience and one that will help me a LOT with the rest of my career.

But I'm still extremely nervous and stressed about it. I'm not sure if you guys have picked up on this yet, but I can get stressed out very easily. I've gotten better at dealing with stress and learned how to manage it better, but it's still something I have to work at. One of the things that stresses me the most is change - which is all that seems to be happening at the moment!

I've caught on to college life and have gotten super used to the routine. I know how to be a good student and get good grades. I know who my friends are and when we hang out. I know when I'll have the most free time and when I'll have a ton of work to do.

Now I'm going back to not knowing and having to start over with those things! Which is fine because I don't really want to be a college student for the rest of my life. And I know that teaching is something I enjoy doing and what I want to do for my career. But it's still nerve-racking for me to walk into a building and not really know what I'm doing, where things are, or who anyone is. I'm not sure what my role is as a student teacher since I want to show that I'm willing to do things but I also don't want to annoy the teachers I'm working with or anything. And I'm definitely nervous about getting assessed on my teaching and how the projects I have to complete will be graded!

Like I said I don't like change and I know part of it is me needing wanting to be in control and part of it is being a perfectionist. It just bothers me to not know what I'm doing, what's expected of me, and what's coming. I know those things will come with time and after a few weeks it will seem like no big deal, but for right now it does. It also deeply bothers me for my work to not be good enough. I know that as a student teacher the teachers I work with and my college professors don't expect me to be perfect and they mostly just want to see that I try and do my best and am willing to improve, but it still bothers me!

Despite all the nerves and being unsure, I would still say I'm mostly excited for student teaching. Like I said earlier, I'm excited to start practicing what I've been preparing for the last four years. I'm excited to be meet my students and get to know them this year. I'm excited to help kids learn and I'm excited to develop relationships with the teachers and staff at the school. 

If you read through all of this, thank you. I just wanted to share my thoughts on all of this. I know this will be good for me and anyone else starting something for the first time - college, internship, job, whatever - to feel less alone and more normal about worrying about all of this (or at least I hope I'm not the only one!).

Are you starting anything new? Do you thrive on change and new things, or does it stress you too? Let me know in the comments!

Related Posts: Changes and Possibilities, College Advice for Freshman, 10 Ways I Cope with Depression

Saturday, August 13, 2016

My Weekend To Do List for A Clean Home

It's time for the second installment of my new series - My Weekend To Do List. This month it's all about a topic I've never tackled before here - cleaning. Which may not sound exciting or fun, but we all have to do it and having a clean home makes a huge difference! If my place is a mess I can't focus as well because of everything being all over the place. Having a mess also makes it a lot harder to do things because you have to clear an area just so you can do some work or cook dinner! So cleaning up your home on the weekend is definitely a good thing for your home and your sanity.

Now before we get too far into this, I just want you to know this is definitely not what I do every weekend! Most weekends I just straighten up, vacuum, wash a load of laundry, and clean up the kitchen a bit. This list is what I do if I'm wanting to really clean the place up and make my home look like new.

8 things to do to clean your home this weekend!

Change the sheets.

Changing the sheets is a task that gets pushed off. For some reason this seems like a time consuming job, when really it's about 10 minutes (if you struggle with that bed sheet like I do). Plus it makes it feel like a whole new bed when you go to sleep! So get to it and put a new set of sheets on your bed!

Make the bed.

Since you just put new sheets on your bed, you might as well finish the job and make your bed. Pull up the quilt/duvet and place your pillows nicely on your bed. 

Tidy up.

If you're like me you probably have a few pairs of shoes laying around, clothes on the floor that should be in the clothes hamper, empty glasses on the side table - you know how it is! So go through each room and put away everything that doesn't belong and straighten up what does belong there - fold blankets or get your stationary stacked perfectly.


You know it needs to be done. And my mother would tell you how good it is for your carpet.

Do the laundry.

It's probably overflowing. You're probably getting low on clothes to wear. So separate (darks, whites, colors - or however you do) and put a load of laundry in the wash. And don't forget to dry, fold, and put away your laundry!

Clean the kitchen.

And I mean clean the kitchen! Wash the dishes and put them away. Clean the countertops, stove, and microwave. Clean out the fridge and get rid of any food that's gone bad. Sweep and mop the floors. Now you've got a clean kitchen (that will be a mess by the next meal - but we'll just pretend it will stay this way forever).

Clean the bathroom.

Clean the mirror(s), countertop, shower, and toilet. Sweep and mop the floors. 

Clean up your pet's area.

If you have a pet, there's a chance that you have a little area for them and it's gotten a bit messy. For me that means cleaning out my turtle's tank and wiping down the chest his tank is on. So make your pet a happier guy or gal and clean up their space a bit, too!

That's the list of things I tackle if I'm going to be cleaning up my apartment over the weekend. What do you do to clean up your home over the weekend? Let me know in the comments!