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As I’ve studied what it might take to become a successful author, the idea of a personal website kept popping up. “You can’t just be a writer anymore,” goes the wisdom. “You need a platform. At the very least a basic website for people to search you.”

I have mixed feelings on the topic. On the one hand, it’s a lot of investment with very little return. On the other, I like the idea of a place where people can learn about me, read my unfiltered work and thoughts, and maybe build relationships. After a lot of thought and a few aborted starts I decided to go for it.

The first thing I did was study other websites. I was looking at two main things: 1.) overall aesthetic and content and 2.) all the individual pieces that make up the whole. I wasn’t looking for ideas, necessarily, but trying to understand what people expect from websites that are, ostensibly, similar to mine. The second point (individual pieces of the sites) was to understand what I’d need to prepare. Each page of a website has basic building blocks that need content associated with them:

  • Navigation Title: This is the end of the URL. For example, you’re reading this at www.craiggusmann@com/blog
  • Page Title: The title of the page. My blog is called Pro-fun-dit(t)y–or what passes as a clever play on words around these parts.
  • Description: A bit of narrative that welcomes the reader to the specific page and describes what it is.
  • Picture: A visual component.

Having learned this, I created a Google Doc and brainstormed all the different pages to this site I thought I might want. That includes my home page, this blog, an “About Me” page, the vignettes page, a contact page, and “Belle and Athena.” I also thought I might want pages for a mailing list and news items, generated ideas for them, but ultimately decided I don’t need them right now. (See, the problem is that to have a news items page you need news to report.)

While working this out, I had to decide what exactly I wanted this place to be. What should the vibe be? What type of content do I want to write? How often should I update? How much can I update without becoming overwhelmed?

I had some experience with this from a blog I ran a few years ago. Back then, I tried to update three times per week with lessons from my writing journey, film and book criticism, and more general posts. It seemed to work well enough back them, with my readership being modest but substantial enough to keep going. But I stopped blogging back then because of time constraints. I don’t want that to be an issue again. I work best in a structured environment, knowing what I need to do so I can go ahead and do it, so I brainstormed all the different types of content I could write across a blog, but also more creative things that don’t fit neatly in this space. I wrote everything down and figured out the frequency I might be able to provide each piece of content without being overwhelmed or getting burned out:

A draft of my brainstorming content ideas, including the frequency of each post.

The hope is that there is enough variety of content to keep readers interested and keep the writing fresh for me. Again, the major issue is frequency. Consistency is super important in blogging, but with a day job that sometimes has unpredictable hours and tight deadlines I worry that I won’t be able to keep a good cadence. So, with that in mind, I tried to give myself enough leeway to post frequently enough that I’m consistently generating new content for readers, but not too frequently that I’m burning myself out or breaking promises.

Obviously, what works for me (I think–it’s really yet to be proven this is the right approach even for me) may not be for everyone. The point of this post is that if you decide to build a personal website, to cut down on the work involved and the long-term stress of maintenance, plan ahead.

I’ll continue to share my approach to building a website and the lessons I’ve learned along the way over the coming weeks and months. If you have experience with websites, leave your own advice in the comments.