So you want to start a blog. A nature blog, no less.
Hats off to you for taking some steps closer to creating one. There is always room on the web for another voice for the natural world.
This article is all about how to blog about nature. What format and style to choose, the structure and word-count that work best, and what to remember in the face of feeling nervous about writing. There’ll also be some help on what to blog about, to spark some ideas, or organise the ones you already have.
Firstly, I want you to shelve those notions of blogging as a passive income or becoming an international celebrity blogger. Not only is this a mostly delusional goal for the majority of bloggers (think dime a dozen travel blogs, for one), in the fields of nature and the environment you have to be really exceptional to grow an enviable audience. Even then, it will be nothing like the success achieved by celeb-bloggers such as Perez Hilton or Darren Prowse of Problogger. Articles about the natural world just aren’t as sexy as those about London Fashion Week or bitcoin investment. Sad but true.
Hopefully, you’ve come here because you want to write a blog for your own noble reasons instead: self-development, sharing opinions, teaching others, spreading awareness. And we could all do with more of that on the world wide web (with some real-world action to follow, of course).
How to write your blog
Whatever your reasons for deciding to write a blog, the most important thing to remember is (cue corny lines) write from the heart. Be yourself. Follow and share your passions. Clichés aside, your blog will be richer, more honest and more relatable if you do this. Being authentic is what will make you more appealing. Why write something that’s a carbon-copy of what others are doing, anyway? There’s no sign of the neoliberal celebration of individualism coming to an end any time soon. Embrace your uniqueness. Be weird and proud of it.
A good angle for a nature blog is to write it like a journal.
Remember the old days, when naturalists only had a pencil and paper-based fieldbook to take out into the wilds? Try doing this yourself. Connecting our minds through our hands by using a real pen with real paper helps us to process and articulate information better (scientific fact). Head out on a hike and observe, record and draw. Let nature be your inspiration.
Do this already?
Perfect – you have a head start.
After your wanderings in the wilds, grab your keyboard and transfer your handmade notes to digital format. Type up your observations. Upload the photos. Scan your sketches. And don’t forget to add the location, date, time and weather. Details make a difference. Once the raw data is on your computer, it’s ideal material to add to compilations of stories, thoughts and feelings.
People love reading personal diary-like accounts, especially when they include interesting facts or images from a trip out into the field. It’s worth noting that if it weren’t for the old journals of past-naturalists, much of our knowledge about species (particularly extinct ones) would never have been gathered. You can be a part of the global accumulation of data about our natural world.
Your blog will also serve as a record for you to refer to time and again, whether for research or reminiscence. And you’re sure to have a following of folks who love to have a nosey in other people’s diaries.
Putting it together
What puts off a lot of wannabe bloggers is how to word and structure their posts. Assembling a readable, engaging and enjoyable blog post isn’t as difficult as you’d imagine, however. There are tried-and-tested formulae, as well as structures and styles you can employ to be sure your site visitors stick around and enjoy the show.
Consider the voice you want for your blog. By voice, I mean the way your blog reads in the eyes and minds of your audience. This is the difference between “punchin’ keys like a pro to serve up some flamin’ hot content” and “eloquently crafting prose that produces magnificently alluring subject matter”. Informal vs. formal. Slang-filled casual text or loftier, more lucid wordsmithing.
Who you appeal to can depend on the way you write.
Most folks don’t want to learn stuff while poring over jargon-heavy text that reads like an audit for a law firm. However, if you’re writing among circles of scientists and other academics, your blog posts should include much meatier, more complex vocabulary. Again, the adage “Be yourself” applies here. Use the language you’re most comfortable with, to avoid sounding pretentious (or out of your depth) but don’t be afraid to research and employ new words too – blogging is a voyage of discovery in many ways.
Fortunately for bloggers everywhere, the sweetest read tends to be an informal, conversational tone, like you’re listening to a friend describe their day in a chatty email or diary entry. If you can write in a friendly yet informative way, you’ll be on to a blogging hit. Just don’t create an extreme version of an informal article; a dumbed-down post that sounds more patronising than personable (clickbait articles that have as much substance as a jellyfish fart are prime examples).
Whenever you create a blog post, the layout and structure of the piece is just as crucial as the content. Conscientiously organising writing on a page is something a lot of bloggers overlook, to the dismay of their readers.
Imagine chancing upon a marvellous title on a topic you’re passionate about, only to find it is written as a single, gapless, wall of words. A huge block of intimidating text. To the reader’s eye, it’s the visual equivalent of a brick in the face. All but the most determined (or possibly dullest) readers will skip it for a lighter read.
By paragraphing your article, you divide the information into bite-sized chunks. Now, instead of trying to force-feed someone a bullion bar of 97% dark chocolate, you’re presenting them with a tray of appealing, cocoa-filled dainties they can pick at one by one.
Adding titles, like the ones in this post, will also make for easier reading. Images inserted between sub-topics also have the same effect, breaking up huge areas of text and leading the reader onwards within the article.
Single, isolated sentences are another device that writers use to maintain engagement.
Like the one above.
Or the one you just read.
They act like a snap of the fingers to grab attention and are especially effective for spurring someone into action or helping them retain some information.
There’s a lot of contention about word count in online content. Some say 200-400 words is ideal because most people only have the opportunity to read something in the time it takes to boil a kettle, or else have as much concentration capability as a cat with ADHD. Others insist that search engines like Google favour articles which are longer than 1000 words because these ample reads contain more value for readers.
In my humble opinion, a blog post written for the joy of writing – not just for increasing eyeballs to your website – can be as long or as short as you bloody well like.
If you want to appeal to an audience of trigger-happy perpetual-surfers whose attention spans are as long as the autoplay timer between YouTube videos, you should keep posts under 400 words and cram in plenty of images to keep ‘em happy.
But if you want a following who desire a hearty meal of a read that’s brimming with information and insights, you can pour out a 2000-word essay without fear of inducing blog-jumping boredom. Incidentally, a blog post of 1700 words constitutes a 7-minute read, which is the optimum length of reading time according to the popular publishing platform Medium. So perhaps reports about creating sizeable articles are true.
If you’ve made an effort, your audience will too.
Writing a blog can be daunting, especially when we have plenty to share and say, but believe we lack the language skills to do it.
If your spelling and punctuation leave a lot to be desired, or your grasp of grammar is tenuous at best, there’s a risk that your readers won’t have faith in what you say. Your facts could be spot on, your stories compelling and inspirational, but if your reader continually stumbles over misplaced commas and blunders into dangling participles (say whaaat?), they’ll be so jarred by the experience they’ll have missed what your post is really about.
That said, in the blogosphere (yes, it’s a real word) most people understand that no one is perfect, and people can be very forgiving if they read material that has clearly come from the heart. What’s more, writing is a skill like any other and improves the more you do it. Perseverance and practice will make perfect.
And with online assistance in the form of spellchecking software, websites and forums on grammar rules, and professional writing coaches for hire, you can develop your penmanship in tandem with your blogging journey.
Before publishing posts, be sure to scan your text for errors and readability. If you’re still in doubt, have it proof-read by another set of eyes. Sometimes, leaving a freshly-written piece for a while, then returning to read it again, can often highlight mistakes you would have otherwise missed.
As a writer, editor and English teacher by trade, I’m biased in opining that a human eye is far more reliable for checking work than a machine. Perhaps the software is advancing faster than I can type this article, but almost all grammar-checking programmes currently on the market still can’t identify word-choice errors, suitability and tone of voice, structure, flow or formatting. Nor can they give constructive feedback about someone’s writing ability.
Rise of the robots…?
Not just yet.
What to write in a nature blog
Many bloggers falter at the thought of what to write about. Again, the rule of thumb here is to draw from what fires your imagination the most; what do you feel most passionate about? Choosing a niche, or a blending of a few niches also brings an interested audience to your blog.
You could focus on places you love to visit, perhaps your local area or a regular twitching haunt. Describe the trips you’ve made and your excursions to areas of natural beauty or sites of special scientific interest. It could be a blog solely dedicated to national parks, river walks or wildlife in the urban jungle. The choice is yours.
Another option is to showcase animals in your blogs, from broad coverage of entire families of animals to a focus on single species. Consider what to include about each creature: scientific information; hilarious, strange or astounding facts; stories inspired by their habits and habitats; tales of your own encounters with the species.
When I was writing for the Dorset Wildlife Trust, I presented several stories that happened to feature facts about the unbelievable genitalia of some marine species. Did you know that a barnacle has the longest penis of any animal in relation to its size?! Fascinating and wonderfully risqué at the same time. What can I say? Sex sells.
Why not write a blog filled with practical advice for naturalists and nature enthusiasts? We all have knowledge and expertise to share – from what equipment to take out into the field, to where to spot corvids in the UK – your blog could be a mine of information for others.
And if you feel you don’t have any tips or advice to share, opt for your opinion instead. Your blog can be a sounding board for your views on conservation, land use, species extinction or pollution… the topics are limitless. Throw in a forum and you could generate a whole new wave of ideas in your very own online community.
Take a journalistic stance and publish posts that report on environmental, ecological and social issues. In a world plagued by greedy corporations, fake news and unscrupulous authorities, independent journalism is a worthy and much-needed field to enter these days.
The marvellous thing about blogging is the sheer variety and scope you have as a self-publishing author. All manner of topics can be covered in the same blog. Your nature writing could include wild foods and foraging tips, places to do rock-climbing, how to photograph invertebrates with a macro lens, plus a report on a silversmithing project you’re undertaking.
Combos and cross-fertilisation of concepts make the most captivating blogs.
So, what are you waiting for?
Grab your pen and fieldbook, do up your boots and start some online literary trail-making of your own. Our natural world needs our voices more than ever before.
Cover image: © Raw Pixel
If you liked this post, please consider casting a vote for me in the 2018 ‘Wildlife Blogger of the Year’ competition. You can read my entry, and cast a vote for number 13, here >> http://www.terra-incognita.travel/2018/a-bittersweet-return