The two questions I’m asked most by readers of this blog are “How do I start a blog like yours” and “What books do you recommend reading?”
So, finally, here are my recommendations. I don’t recommend anything flippantly. If it’s here, it’s good.
I’ve made use of way more books than blogging tools, so I’ve limited them to the books that have had a considerable and lasting effect on my life.
A word on blogging
There’s been such a persistent demand for my advice on blogging, and I love writing about blogging but that’s not what Raptitude is about. So I’m currently putting together a self-contained resource detailing everything I did to get this blog to where it is.
It has no title yet, but it’s a full-length guide that focuses on exploiting the differences between the blogs that actually get read by people and the 99% that don’t. I grew Raptitude to hundreds of thousands of views a month with no guest posting and almost none of the social media promotion that gets played up as “the key” to building an audience. The primary difference is the strength of the content. It has to move people.
People share blogs that move them, and so it has been the readers who have built Raptitude’s audience, not my self-promotion. Creating content that moves people is a learnable skillset, and I can teach you. But the guide isn’t ready yet — stay tuned.
You can still start in the mean time — the concepts I’ll go over are applicable to both beginners and for experienced bloggers who have yet to click with an audience. No matter when you start, you’ll wish you had started earlier.
One simple piece of advice, which I will drill into all comers to this resource, is this: If you want to start a blog people actually read, you need your own top-level domain. That means your own .com, or less preferably, a dot-net. The only well-known blogger who hasn’t done this is Seth Godin, and that’s because he started his blog in the nineties.
Don’t worry, it’s easy, and you’ll be able to tell people to go to [whateveryouwant].com instead of writing down some big ugly link they won’t bother with.
For that you need a host.
Raptitude sits on a Bluehost server and always has. They’re the blue-chip host for small-to-medium websites, and now that its main competitor, GoDaddy, has been disgraced publicly for its sketchy security and business practices (not to mention its CEO shooting elephants for fun) there’s really no reason not to use Bluehost.
They’re the only host I’ve ever used, so maybe I don’t know what I’m missing, but their customer service has been outstanding for me. I wish all companies would do what they do. You can talk to an actual human being there any time of day, any day. They have a legion of nocturnal computer geeks waiting to fix your problem, and they’ve seen it all.
The limitation is that the basic package might become inadequate once your monthly pageviews rise past the hundreds of thousands into the millions. There are worse problems to have though, and when you get there you can evaluate other options. For now, it’s all you need.
The best and also most-ignored piece of blogging advice is to start building a mailing list when you begin your blog. It’s a well-known no-brainer among bloggers, equivalent to “Start saving for your retirement when you’re 20″ — and just as many people have that same forehead-slapping moment after they’ve wasted a few (or many) years of growth. Start it now. Aweber is the hands-down the best email list service available, and this is about as uncontroversial a claim as you will find in the blogging world. This is the easiest blog-related decision you are going to make.
When I started Raptitude, the second smartest thing I did (the first is below) was to get Thesis, which is a WordPress super-theme developed by Chris Pearson and Brian Clark (the pre-eminent blogger behind copyblogger.com).
As a general rule, to use non-premium WordPress themes, in order to make design changes to your website you’ll have to either code some CSS yourself, or copy and paste code from do-it-yourselfer blogs, then load it up and see if it looks like what you want. I am a college-trained computer programmer and still hated this aspect of blogging, so I bought Thesis.
Thesis is exceptional in that it lets you do all the necessary manipulation without even seeing any code. You just check boxes and type in what you want to appear. There are a thousand other reasons to use Thesis, but not having to deal with the guts of your blogging software makes the technical aspect of blogging about ten times easier. Just get the basic package, unless you’re planning a web empire.
How to Start a Blog That Matters
I confess that I came out of the blogging gates with a bit of a secret weapon. I paid for an online blogging course designed by a blogger named Yaro Starak, which I credit for my ease in finding an audience so quickly. There is just so much free “How To” information out there — and the quality varies — that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Taking the course removed all doubt about how I should be spending my time blogging.
Being someone who has a history of analysis-paralysis, I probably would have quit during the technical learning curve without clear instruction. Raptitude has utterly transformed my life, and think what you will of it, buying that course was the best decision I ever made. I had been networking with other fledgling bloggers at the time and watched them linger in obscurity, celebrating one or two comments on their posts, while my audience got bigger and bigger. I felt like I was cheating.
I will tell you a secret that will give you an incredible advantage as a blogger: the most valuable content on the web is not free. Unfortunately for you, Yaro took his course off the market last year because the content had become a bit dated — “cutting edge” dulls fast in the online world. Happily, a sharp-minded blogger named Corbett Barr now has a course available that takes you through all the same steps, called How to Start a Blog That Matters. It’s leaner, with less “optional” material, it’s up-to-date, and costs way less than Yaro’s course did.
If you don’t know Corbett, he’s known for starting three different blogs that all reached six-figure monthly traffic bafflingly quickly. He knows how traffic on the internet works and finally put it all together in a course of his own. He’s either extremely hardworking (even though he travels abroad six months of the year) or has some kind of practical insight into growing blogs.
This course takes a lot more time than money, and whether you want to invest that time is related to the question of whether you are serious about building a blog with a significant audience. It sounds great, and it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, but many people are content to write solely as a humble creative outlet. This is fine, but don’t pretend you’d be happy with that level if you really to want your blog to be significant and life-changing. It sure feels good to take a significant commitment towards what you want, if you want it.
I have limited this list to books that precipitated a personal breakthrough in my life.
Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff – Richard Carlson
If this book was never written, the blog you’re reading wouldn’t exist, and I don’t even want to think about what shape my life would be in. When I discovered it I was a college-age mess, and this simple little book taught me life’s supreme lesson — that the quality of my experience depends on how I interact with it and not what happens to me. After writing on this same approach for four years, it’s such a basic notion to me now, but at the time it changed everything about my world.
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
Living in the present is a cliche that everyone knows, but I think relatively few people actually comprehend the totality of the present moment — it really is all there is, and The Power of Now gets this point across without any mysticism. Brilliant book. I consumed it first as an audiobook, and I recommend that format especially — Tolle’s gentle voice gives the concepts a resonance they might not have in print.
A New Earth – Eckhart Tolle
Eckhart Tolle’s second book is a more refined take on the same principles outlined in The Power of Now. Neither is necessary to get the other but if one resonated with you, definitely read the other. The audio version is great too.
Handbook to Higher Consciousness – Ken Keyes, Jr.
A highly rational and structured approach to overcoming emotional pain, described plainily by a very warm and loving man. Parts of this book are so profound and powerful that I have put off writing about them until I’m a good enough writer that I don’t muck it up. It’s out of print but can be found used through Amazon’s third party sellers. Mine came with purple highlighter marks.
Nonviolent Communication – Marshall Rosenberg
Marshall Rosenberg should be a lot more famous than he is. Nonviolent Communication is a super-simple process for communicating with people without either triggering defensiveness or succumbing to it yourself. He gives an approach that improves almost every single interaction with other people. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that there really is nothing humanity needs more than the insights in this book.
On Having No Head – Douglas Harding
If your mind is open enough when you come to him, Douglas Harding will turn your world inside-out, where it will begin to make a lot more sense. His approach to self-inquiry is so shockingly simple that it’s easy to miss. On Having No Head is his flagship book, but the best starting point may be to go to www.headless.org and do the simple experiments there.
Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor Frankl
Read Frankl’s account of living in a Nazi death camp from a comfortable chair, and see if you can still take your freedoms and luxuries for granted. He focuses on the differing mentalities of the prisoners, and how their personal relationships to their own suffering was what decided who survived.
Tao Te Ching – Lao Tsu (Stephen Mitchell translation)
I pick this up and read a verse every week or so. The Stephen Mitchell translation is by most accounts the best one, and each verse has footnotes in the back. I’ve cycled through it a few times over the years and every single time I read a verse I am moved. Don’t read more than a verse a day. They need time to steep in your mind.
People don’t ask about which teas I recommend, but I’m going to tell you anyway. I order all my tea from International House of Tea in Thunder Bay. I have a gorgeous tea selection now, and each variety I’ve received from iHOT has been outstanding, not to mention less pretentious and expensive than chain-operated hipster-traps like David’s Tea and Teavana.
A dedicated, present-moment tea experience is still one of the most gratifying luxuries available to a modern human being, and it costs pennies. I especially recommend the Roasted Almond Ceylon and Tung Ting Oolong.
In case it would influence your decision either way, know that if you choose to buy any of these items through this page (other than tea), Raptitude.com receives a commission, which helps to liberate my time from THE MAN and allows me to write more. All recommendations are genuine — I do not endorse what I wouldn’t buy — and the cost to you remains the same.