II. Skill: Writing
Among all the four skills in this blog post, writing is the one I fell in love with the earliest. Ironically, I still feel insecure and inadequate as a writer. I cringe almost everytime I reread one of my published works. One of the things that keep me going is the assurance that I’m constantly trying to imporove.
My best friends in improving my craft are the two books below. I know that it might seem like such a hassle to read two full books on writing just to improve how you write your captions and blog posts–especially if you want your blog to be heavy on visuals instead of words.
But these two books are truly a gold mine. They’re not boring grammar books. So much insight and knowledge are condensed into such tiny little books! It’s been years since I had them, but they have a constant place in my desk and in my vacation reading list. I’m always learning from them.
Tool: Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
Covering the writing waterfront-from basics on verb tense to the value of forming a “support group”-Poynter Institute vice president Clark offers tips, tricks and techniques for anyone putting fingers to keyboard. The best assets in Clark’s book are in the “workshop” sections that conclude each chapter and list strategies for incorporating the material covered in each lesson (minimize adverbs, use active verbs, read your work aloud). Though some suggestions are classroom campy (“Listen to song lyrics to hear how the language moves on the ladder of abstraction” and “With some friends, take a big piece of chart paper and with colored markers draw a diagram of your writing process”), Clark’s blend of instruction and exercise will prove especially useful for teachers. One exercise, for instance, suggests reading the newspaper and marking the location of subjects and verbs. Another provides a close reading of a passage from The Postman Always Rings Twice to look at the ways word placement and sentence structure can add punch to prose. Clark doesn’t intend his guide to be a replacement for classic style guides like Elements of Style, but as a companion volume, it does the trick.
Tool: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.
You’ve probably seen this book when you were in grade school. This book has stood the test of time. Even some of the greatest writers consult this book as regularly as they would a dictionary and a thesaurus. When I say I want to improve my grammar, reviewing the book is the first step.
This writing tool won’t necessarily improve your grammar and writing style, but it’s an essential tool for keeping all your drafts and ideas organized, synced, and backed up. In my experience as a student and as a blogger, I realized that being organized could make the difference between the success and the failure of a project. There are times when you have the willpower, the skill, the big idea, and the resources–but still fail to meet your goals because you weren’t organized enough.
Evernote has been a huge help in my life as a student and a blogger because it minimizes the effort needed for you to organize your life. It makes all your notes easily searchable. I see it as an extension of my own brain.
I wrote a more detailed review of Evernote for Inquirer, which you could access here:
III. Skill: Mobile Photography
With powerful cellphone cameras, DSLR’s are no longer requirements to come up with Instagram-worthy photos. These are some helpful YouTube tutorials for mobile photography. Both tutorials use iPhone, but I believe these are helpful for Android users, too.
1.) The iPhone 6s Bikini Shoot by FStoppers
This is my favorite YouTube tutorial on mobile photography. I like this video because everything was explained well. It also shows you the budget-friendly alternatives you could use to build up your gear. Most importantly, it shows you rules on lighting, composition, posing, and more–without the distraction of too many technical terms.
2.) How I Edit Instagram Pictures | iPhone by Marianna Hewitt
This video is a very different from the first one. It features lifestyle blogger Marianna Hewitt showing you how she edits her photos. A huge chunk of the video is devoted to how she edits a single selfie! This might not seem to be most people’s cup of tea (do you really want to spend ten solid minutes looking at someone editing his/her selfie?) BUT I like this tutorial because it shows you very helpful editing apps–both for your selfie and non-selfie photos. The first tutorial was focused on shooting; this one’s focused on editing. There are useful tips on organization and post-processing color.
Skill: Time and Task Management
Idea generation on what to blog about is always exciting. But it’s not always a linear process from the eureka moment, to the first draft, to the published version. It’s often a messy process of getting the eureka moment while you’re knee-deep in another project, working sporadically in different drafts, and a hundred other distractions and failed attempts before your baby becomes a published work. Trello keeps everything organized. But instead of a normal to-do list, it’s very visual and collaborative. I wrote a more detailed review on Inquirer here:
Tip: Pomodoro Technique
This is something I learned from my Creative Writing 10 professor. He’s the same professor who made it our homework to spend one hour doing nothing. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management trick to keep you focused while you work, and eliminate burnouts through regular breaks. There are also apps inspired by this technique to help you work better and take truly effective breaks. Their website has a clear and video explaining how it works.
Tool: WordPress App
This is the true definition of being a digital nomad! It’s one of my most recent discoveries. I usually work in my laptop, but when my charger got broken, I was faced with a dilemma. I had to publish a few drafts on WordPress, but didn’t have a laptop. I downloaded the WordPress app on my phone, and it’s been a huge help to me since then! I no longer feel the need to lug my laptop around!
Everything loads more quickly on the app. I waste less time loading the WordPress website, and I could work from anywhere! I make posts, edit drafts, upload photos (straight from my Photos app). No more need to sync or transfer photos before uploading.
Tool: Speedtest App
We live in a country with one of the slowest and most expensive Internet services. If you’re going to start a blog, chances are, you’ll be spending a lot of time online for research, correspondence, and most Internet-demanding of all: uploading.
Sometimes, our natural feel for how fast or how slow our Internet connection is could be faulty. For example, my PLDT subscription is 8 mbps. I felt like it wasn’t 8mbps. Using Speedtest, I found out that I was getting only 0.10 mbps. For drastic situations like these, you probably won’t need the app to tell you there’s something wrong with your Internet connection. But sometimes, I get only 3 mbps and I’m not sure if I’m only imaginging that the Internet is slower than how it shouldbe.
Slow Internet hinders your productivity. You spend a much longer time working, when you could just transfer somewhere with better connection and get more things done. Or perhaps you could do offline work like actual writing, editing photos, brainstorming, scheduling, and more–and then reserve those that need the Internet connection when you already have a better connection elsewhere. This set-up is more efficient compared to trying to get work done in horrible conditions. You tire yourself; you waste time.
It has now become a habit whenever I go to restaurants to do a speed test on their WiFi. I have a general knowledge on which best coffee shops and restaurants to go to if I need reliable connection.
How to Start a Blog: 10+ Helpful Tools and Tips
Did you find these helpful? If you have more tools and tips to add to the list, please leave them in the comments below. I intentionally wrote “10+” instead of 10, because I’m hoping to regularly update this list. If you have more to add, I’m sure I (and our readers) would find them very useful.
In one word, I could summarize the most important tip I have for blogging: begin. Technology changes quickly. I’m not even sure if the apps I mentioned here would be around five to ten years from now. If you catch yourself overthinking and over-planning but never doing, I hope this blog post encourages you to begin.