Deep Thoughts Tutorials

So You Want To Start A Model Blog?

I don’t ever recall a time that I was not writing about something. From the earliest days when I was taught to put pencil to paper (or crayon… 😉 ), the things I think about somehow find their way into written form. While I have no problem with verbal communication, I feel most “at home” with the written word.

Early on I wrote volumes of short stories. My love of history and scale modeling came out in those early efforts, with adventures of various characters and their machines being chronicled in stacks of those bound notebooks with the black and white speckled covers. Most of that work was lost to time, moves, and periodic mass cleanings. The few that I do have make me laugh now when I read back over them.

At the time, I never considered them being produced for anyone but me. It wasn’t that I was afraid for people to read them, really. When friends inquired about what I was writing, I’d show them, and after brief perusals, they’d say “cool”. We’d then go ride bikes, or swim in a local pond, or build Lego or models.

Gone Digital

As I grew older, I continued to write. We entered the computing world in 1996, as my wife began work on a masters degree. So the writing I did from time to time shifted from paper to computer.

About the same time, I’d started work as a web developer. Though self-taught, I pursued the craft voraciously, and fairly quickly after leaving the Army was blessed with full time employment in the field – a field I still work in over 20 years later.

In the late 90s, I realized I could combine my new-found love of all things web development with my love of writing. Not finding any software that I really liked at the time, I wrote a simple set of scripts to handle the task. Before too long, thoughts flowed on to the web at fairly regular intervals.

Before I’d ever actually heard the term “blog”, I had one. (Though I certainly wasn’t the first!)

A New Focus

My earliest blog writings were a random collection of thoughts – everything from current events to short fiction pieces. I don’t know that anyone ever read them, other than perhaps someone who accidentally stumbled across my work. Just as I’d done in my youth, the writing was not so much for public consumption, but rather a creative outlet for me.

When I got back into the scale modeling hobby in 2006, my love of writing and the rediscovery of my childhood hobby merged. I started a Christian-based blog called AgapeModels.com. I wrote there for many years, amassing nearly 900 entries over the course of about a decade.

Some non-modeling family circumstances made me realize I needed to try and monetize my work. Not feeling comfortable doing so given the focus of the Agape site, I slowly began switching over to this site. Since that time, I’ve accumulated almost 600 more blog posts. Last I checked, I’ve generally average around 1500 words over the course of those 1500 entries, which is roughly the length of War and Peace… four times over.

I say all that not to impress anyone – millions of people blog – but rather to demonstrate I’ve had loads of opportunity to fail, succeed, and (most of the time) get by.

So I Assume You’re Getting To A Point, Blog Boy?

One of the more frequent questions I am asked by fellow modelers is “how do I start blogging?” 

The trouble with answering that question is that there are so many facets to examine in order to really provide a helpful response. My intent in this blog post is to give a good foundation that a modeler/writer can build on, and perhaps avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve hit over the years.

Keep in mind, this is not THE way to do it, but rather AN way to do it. (And yes I realize that’s not grammatically correct.. 😉 )

What Are You Planning?

The first thing I asked folks who want to know about blogging is “why do you want to do it?” The typical answer is generally a shrug, and a mumbled response about “well, I see everyone else doing it…” And that’s not necessarily a bad response really, but in observing folks who start there, I don’t see much long term success.

A few folks give answer that generally falls under “I want to be noticed”. I get that… I think everyone who does some sort of thing in a public way has a desire to be noticed. As much as I try to be a humble person, there’s a shadowy character that lurks around my mind that feeds on being noticed. Frankly, it bugs me, and I try to shoo him into the corner every time he pops his head out.

The smallest number are the folks who boil it down to “I love to write”. They may be like me and simply love to write for the sake of writing. Others may feel a pull to write about techniques and products and all of those others things modelers love. It’s not so much the love of writing they have, but a love of sharing in the craft. If this is you, take heart. My experience has been those folks see long term success in blogging – success being defined as “satisfying artistic endeavor”, and not necessarily traffic or monetary success.

Regardless, I think the first step in blogging is deciding why you want to blog, and when you pinpoint that, keep it as your underlying theme. Print it out, tape it to your monitor, and when you later stop and say “why am I doing this?”, there it is.

Writing consistently

Most folks can come up with a reason to blog fairly easily. Whether it be a notion of “it’s something to do”, or “I have a deep passion for literature”, or anything else in between, the reason is easy to nail down. Then comes the hard part. 

You actually have to write. Consistently.

Quite often I’ve encountered blogs that started off strong, but as you look at the posts, the frequency declines. What had been a once a week thing became once a month, then once a quarter, then a brief flurry after two years… and nothing for years after that.

Writing consistently is a discipline. There’s no way around it. And I think the best way to do it is just like any other endeavor – practice.

What I recommend is starting small. Maybe it’s just a text document on your PC. Or perhaps you use your social media as a “training ground”. Whatever you choose… write. Write on a consistent, frequent basis. How much doesn’t matter so much as simply doing it. I generally recommend trying to write 300-500 words about a topic 2 or 3 times a week. Perhaps it’s a model you’re building, or thoughts on products. Over time, it will likely be a mix.

As you discipline yourself in doing this, increase the amount of words you write, or the frequency, or both. This will help you see how much blogging you can fit into your schedule. Once you are in the habit of doing it – I recommend at least 2 months, transition to a full blogging environment.

Photography

Now, this is not blogging, per se. But in a modeling related blog, photography plays a part. While the process of photographing your models for a blog could be an article on its own (note to self…), there are some general things to keep in mind.

First, I beg you… please do not post your blurry, poorly lit, cluttered background photos on your blog. That will kill it. Your writing may be great, but this hobby is heavily a visually-based medium. If your photos can’t get up to a state that helps tell the story as much as your writing, work on the photo side to bring it up to speed.

Happily, the tools are generally available for everyone. Most modern phones have a camera of reasonable quality that is suitable for taking decent photos. A large piece of posterboard can serve as a backdrop, allowing your model to stand out cleanly against a neutral background. Lighting is easy – get a few desk lamps, a few 5500K bulbs, and light your model from at least two sides and above. You don’t necessarily need a light box either – thin tissue placed in front of the lamps works well enough.

The real key, though, is post-processing. Yes, I mean Photoshop. Or something like it. (I like Photoshop Elements.) And before you cry out “cheater”, you need to understand this… every magazine you look at,  every modeling book you own… whatever has photos in it has been processed. The work done in post-processing is not to make a model look better than it really is. Rather, it is a method that uses software to correct deficiencies in the photo process, so the final result looks as it did sitting on the desk in front of you.

Like I said, this is best treated in a discussion on its own, but suffice to say, good photos are a must.

Choosing a platform

While most modelers who desire to blog can come up with a reason, discipline themselves to write, and figure out how to take photos, choosing a platform to blog on can leave many bewildered. So many people will throw so much information at you that deciphering what is wheat and what is chaffe can be difficult.

Having said that, I’m about to throw some information at you. 🙂

First, let me do something I don’t really feel comfortable doing – explain why I think I am qualified to speak on this.

I’ve been a commercial web developer for 22 years. I quit counting the number of sites I’d built, maintained, provisioned, programmed, and whatever else was needed, after the 1000th site.  At the company I work for now, we manage well over 500  sites, ranging in size from a large county school system all the way to simple sites for local businesses that just want their name and number out there.

In doing that work, I have tried virtually every platform available. My work requires it, as I am always looking for a better mousetrap. So I’m not just basing my recommendation on a couple of blogs, or even a few sites. It’s literally on thousands of instances with paying customers for over 22 years.

Build your blog using WordPress.com. At a basic level, it’s free. You can happily blog for years, and never need to pay a dime. When the day comes for me to retire, and I no longer want to mess with self-hosting my own work, it’s where I’ll go. People will bring up Wix, Joomla, Drupal, Blogger, Mango, DotNuke and DotNet, all sorts of Microsoft products, Google products, and so much more. 

But if you’re looking for long term flexibility, scalability, portability, and ease of use, choose WordPress. And by using WordPress.com specifically, you can forget the software, backup, and security headaches that come with a self-hosted solution. This allows you to focus on writing.

Stick To It

Once all of the previous steps have been addressed, you have to stay with it. Write, write, and write some more. The first few weeks or months can seem quite a chore, but if you stick with it, you’ll find it becomes routine.

Of course, taking steps to make your blogging easier can be beneficial. I like to write during my lunch breaks. I know several bloggers who purchased a low-cost Chromebook that allowed them to work anywhere. Carving out time is essential. Some folks get up early to write. Some stay up late. One fellow I read about years ago said he gave up drinking to blog, and that had a double benefit for him.

The key is to always write. Writing gives you fodder for the blog, but it also makes you a better writer. I often look back on things I’ve previously written, and some of them make me cringe, groan, or laugh – maybe all three. But over time, I see improvement. And I know this process continues.

In all of this, I am assuming that you’re enjoying the process. I think there is a point when an artist must question whether they really enjoy it. Forcing something is never fun. Certainly you may face creative blocks, or times that require “push on through” discipline. But always seek an underlying current of creative enjoyment.

Summarizing The Points

  • Decide why you’re blogging. Let this be your guiding theme.
  • Learn to write consistently.
  • Take good photos, process great photos.
  • WordPress.com
  • Stick to it.

The Parts I Haven’t Mentioned

Quite often when someone approaches me regarding starting a model blog, I am asked some difficult questions that I honestly don’t like answering. Here are a few, answered in a way that is hopefully kind, helpful, and yet bluntly honest. These are not disqualifiers for your own decision, certainly, but rather offered as fodder for thought.

Is my writing good enough? At least once a week, a fellow modeler will send me a link to their new blog, and ask me to read and comment on it. In almost all the cases, I don’t really know them. And while I try to be encouraging, the majority of the time I come away thinking “that really needs some work”.  However, that’s not bad news, really. It means you simply need to keep up with the craft. Just like modeling, seek out ways to improve, to grow and stretch those writing “muscles”.

Am I doing anything unique? For scale modeling blogs, probably not. There are only so many ways you can say “paint this, glue that”. The model you are working on is being built by hundreds or even thousands of other people. Yes, do try and pick some aspect of your writing or modeling style that might be the “stand out” element. But I can’t tell you how many times I read about someone having a “fresh outlook on the hobby”, and when I’m finished reading the link, I have a sense of “haven’t I read this before?” (And to be fair, I’m sure plenty of folks say this about my work…)

Is anyone reading my work? This is something you can easily monitor – just use Google Analytics. Regardless of what platform you pick, you should be able to integrate this in. In fact, I would argue that any platform that can’t should be avoided. As you write, you’ll see if people read it. If you do nothing to let people know you are there,, no one will read it. There are too many voices shouting for attention that you’re competing with. You may need to find ways to promote your blog. Still, don’t let yourself be consumed by watching the numbers. If the numbers start to eat at you, you may be losing sight of why you’re doing all of this. Unless….

Should I monetize my work? This is a tough one, and I feel I need to be far more bluntly honest on this than any of the previous considerations. When you ask people to pay for your work, you’re expected to give something back that is of value. That giving should be at a fairly constant rate, and in a regular quantity. And it needs to be at a level of quality that is commensurate with the dollar amount you’re asking for. It’s a tough question to answer. But I would say this – you will have the most success long term in monetization if you start out assuming that is where you will eventually go. This allows you to plan for it, and in some cases hold back things for it. Establish a good reputation, then when you do start monetization efforts, deliver on expectations. Consistently. Because at that point, it’s a job. But regardless of the mechanics, give people something of value. Otherwise you’re just asking them to fund your lifestyle.

Wrapping Up

Blogging can be a lot of fun. Whether you do it purely as a creative outlet for no one but yourself, or if you’re trying to make it a full time gig that you can earn a living from, the process of writing should be invigorating. As you become more comfortable, you’ll begin to see writing prompts everywhere. Virtually all of my “editorial” pieces are prompted by a real world discussion – this one among them. Finding subjects to write about should be inexhaustible, if you keep your eyes open.

And certainly there are other avenues – some folks prefer a pure visual medium, such as Instagram. Others find their outlet in video – “vlogging” is a word you’ll see more and more. Whatever the method you use, it’s a great way to be creative.

For me, I find my underlying motivation is sharing my joy of the hobby through storytelling. If someone were to ask me to sum up my work in a short sentence, that would be it. Maybe your motivation and style is different, and you’re reasons not even on this page.

Whatever you do, though… have fun with it.

Because just like I say with regards to modeling… when it comes to blogging, if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.

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Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

4 comments

  1. Photography is important. Some interesting stuff happened to me last weekend that made me really want to get a professional photography setup. I had a bust that I was bringing to a show, and seeing people’s reactions who have previously only seen it in photos as well as seeing the difference between my photos and the professionally-taken ones posted online by the show really opened my eyes to how crap my current photography setup truly is. Apparently, all this time, the reason why I would look online at pictures of models and wonder why mine doesn’t look that good was because mine actually did look that good and I just couldn’t photograph worth crap.

    Of course, the other challenge is that I don’t have a lot of space, so it would have to be a setup that isn’t obnoxious to take down…

  2. Sorry Jon I meant to comment on this the other day.

    A really interesting article, and whilst I’ve only been blogging seriously for 2/3rds of a year I fully agree with all that you say – it’s fun but it’s not easy. You’re spot on – You do really have to be interested in what you’re writing about for it to work. I had a modelling blog that I played around with last year but it never went anywhere because, as much as I love building models, I didn’t really have anything particularly interesting to say about them – and it kind of just died a death. My new totally non model related blog is going a lot better because I enjoy what I’m writing.

    The other thing people starting a blog have to be aware of is the amount of work/time it takes to get your name about (assuming you want interaction). For every hour that I spend writing, I probably spend an hour and a half reading and commenting on other peoples blogs – it;s something that I wasn’t expecting when I started.

    Good stuff my man!

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