How to maintain a Blog during Study Abroad

Blogging is hard. Most days, by the time I get back to my apartment, I’m exhausted and just want to kill some brain cells with a nice episode of How I Met Your Mother or Judge Judy. It takes a lot of worth to, instead of going straight to Youtube, opening up Microsoft Word, and writing. Even in a good mood, I lack the motivation.

Japanese dog wearing traditional festival garb

Japanese dog wearing traditional festival garb

I’ve noticed this trend for people doing Study Abroad. A couple weeks before they leave for Study Abroad, they start a blog to document their travels. They post every day. Then, when they get into country, they write several long, detailed posts about everything that has happened to them the first day or two. A couple days later, an equally long post comes out. Then a week passes, with no new posts. Then they’re updating once a month. Or less.

Blogging is hard. I’m not here to judge anyone. I (rarely) write long posts simply because I don’t have time for it. I applaud people who do – but I would rather write a couple specific, short posts then one long, all-encompassing post.

If you’re one of those people that was really passionate about blogging when you first got to your host country, but have been gradually fading, I wanted to share my advice for blogging. I used to go on Google all the time to get advice; now I’ve gotten it down to a (mostly complete) art.

Tokyo Japan Asakusa Sanja Festival Parade

How to maintain a blog during study abroad

1. Update regularly. This is one of the hardest things to do. Basically, you should make a schedule and stick to it. This is important for two reasons:

A. So that you can reach a wider audience (and so that the people remember to check your blog often).

B. So that you don’t get overwhelmed.

I think the longest I’ve gone without a new post was about 9 days, during Christmas when I was traveling through Taiwan. By the time I got back to regular internet access, I was so overwhelmed with things to write about, I was stuck. Ryosuke found me an hour later, curled up in a corner of his parent’s house, staring at a blank Word document.

“I have too much to write about! Everything is so important! Where should I start??”

“Just write something. Anything.”

So I wrote about Taiwanese toilets.

Now I keep a nice “buffer-zone” of one to six articles, completely formatted with text, pictures, and links. All I have to do is log onto WordPress, hit “publish,” and I’m done. When that’s impossible (like when I was traveling through Ishinomaki), I can set each article to publish on a specific date at a specific time. WordPress is really great platform for blogging.

Tokyo Japan Asakusa Sanja Festival Parade Shrine

In any case, you need make  a schedule and stick  to it. This is really hard. I’ve been doing this for almost 8 months and I am still having problems. If you don’t have time to write every day (most of us don’t), then try to write as many articles as you can during your “free” periods and stretch them over your “dry” phases.

2. Find a theme.

I think the only reason I still blog is precisely because I have a theme. My theme is “How to” articles about living in Japan. Over the months it has spread to other things like reviews, travel, pictures, or sad excuses of me trying to hide my opinions/rants in my blog.

When people access my blog, they know what they’re going to find: short articles in list formation with original pictures and occasionally tidbits about my life in Japan. That’s my theme. And as long as people still regularly check my blog, I have to assume it is working.

3. Write about something you love.

I’ve heard this one all the time. As long as you’re writing about something you love, people will read it. They can sense your passion. However, as soon as you lose that push, that passion, and that love, your readers will know. Your writing becomes dry.

I think Tokyo is a fascinating and wonderful city. I don’t think I will ever run out of things to write about; I fall in love with a new part of Japan every day. That’s one of the reasons study abroad is so important – you get the chance to learn about, live in, and become a part of an entirely new society. Share your experiences.

I don't think I will ever run out of things to write about in Japan

I don’t think I will ever run out of things to write about in Japan

4. Keep it short. If you want people to read your blog, keep the articles short. (I realize I’m breaking this rule right now – sorry).

I spend at least an hour every day reading other blogs, Cracked.com, news articles, or other prose that people have shared or linked on facebook. I love reading that kind of stuff. But I rarely read everything. At best, I skim through it, reading maybe 60% of the actual text.

I started skimming through articles in high school so that I didn’t drown under the assigned reading. Someone taught me to read the first couple sentences, a sentence in the middle, and the last sentence in every paragraph. I don’t have time to read the whole thing, and even if I did, I’ve been doing this for nearly four years; I can’t stop.

Tokyo Japan Asakusa Sanja Festival Parade loincloth

Yeah, I’m never going to run out of things to write about in Japan…

People are busy. Time is valuable. If you want people to read your stuff, keep it short and organized. If you are a good enough writer to keep people interested for 3,000 words – good for you. Teach me your ways. I have no illusions of writing ability. I don’t write because I want to become a writer, I write because it’s fun. And I love narcissistically checking my page-views every evening.

5. Include pictures. The easiest way to keep me entertained is to throw in a picture every couple of paragraphs. Too many words make my head hurt; even if you are an amazing blogger, if you don’t include regular pictures, I probably won’t finish your article.

I know that sounds horrible, but I love the way the pictures break up paragraphs. Most successful bloggers incorporate pictures pretty regularly.

Japanese funny toilet sign

Side note- Don’t write your article and then put fifty pictures in a list at the bottom. Facebook is great for photo sharing, blogs – not so much. Your blog is a great chance to explain why your pictures are special. When telling me about that cool temple you went to – show a picture. Tell me about the history. Put any sort of text in between the pictures.

6. Explain, explain, explain. I assume that around 50% of the people who read my blog have never lived in Tokyo, so I try to over-explain. That’s one of the reasons I love pictures so much. I don’t know the rules of writing; I kind of just write what I’m thinking… Pictures can explain Tokyo much better than I can.

Try to err on the side of over-explaining rather than not giving enough information.

Tokyo Asakusa Sanja Festival Parade

Because this doesn’t confuse me. At all.

7. Try to avoid mentioning names. As of last month, more of my views and comment come from people I don’t know (like the found my blog on Google) than people I do know (when people click my facebook link). And even if they do know me, most people don’t know my friends here in Tokyo.

The only name I have and will ever mention on my blog is my fiancé, Ryosuke. He’s become an intricate part of me; most of my adventures or revelations happen when he’s around. For everyone else… I just say “my friend.”

This is a personal decision.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I purposefully omit their names in my blog. Most people aren’t upset, they’re just curious.

The thing is, I’ve appeared on 6 people’s blogs throughout the years. All of them were my friends; none of them told me they were going to write about me. Last year, when I was bored, I put my name into Google search and found three of these blogs. I was a bit shocked. Two of them even had my picture in it – pictures they had pulled off of my facebook.

As luck would have it, I did get to do a year in Japan

As luck would have it, I did get to do a year in Japan

Don’t get me wrong, I was flattered. But I also felt a little bit violated- it was an invasion of privacy.  A small invasion, but an invasion nonetheless.

I am not a secretive purpose. I post my life all over facebook. But the difference is that I’m the one posting it. When people write about me without telling me, even if I’m just mentioned in passing, it feels a little bit like I’m hiding in a bathroom stall, listening to people gossip about me.

It’s weird.

Maybe I’m the only one who thinks this way, but on the off-chance that one of my friends feels same way, I never post the names of people on my blog.

8. Keep a couple back-up posts. I travel. A lot. And when I travel, I don’t have time (or internet access) to blog. WordPress has a pretty neat feature where you can set a post to “automatically” publish at a certain day or time. I do that when I travel, setting posts to publish 2-3 days apart. I got away without blogging for two and a half weeks when I went up to Ishinomaki/Sendai.

Even when I’m not travelling, I have busy days. I don’t want to blog. At any one time, I have a back-up of 2-5 posts that are fully formatted and ready to be published. I keep them in reserve, unpublished, for those days when I really can’t bring myself to open Microsoft Word. They are usually “timeless” posts – either talking about my opinions or a “how to” guide.

I lost my older Fly Scoot Review post a while back, and ended up publishing it 6 months after I had flown with the airline.One of the nicest drag queens I met during the gay-pride event in Tokyo

One of the nicest drag queens I met during the gay-pride event in Tokyo

In any case, keeping a blog is hard work. It’s even harder during study abroad when you’re out there doing all these cool things and no time to write. Or you feel overwhelmed because you have too much to write about and can’t find a place to start.

Blogs are a lot of work.

But they are also incredibly rewarding.

I think this is one of the first times I’ve actually stuck with something, through thick and thin, regardless of how I feel. Blogging has given my study abroad a sense of purpose. (PS – this was officially my 100th post!)

Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

2 Comments on How to maintain a Blog during Study Abroad

  1. “they right several long, detailed posts” —> I think you mean “write”? :P
    Great post though. I’m a fan of your comics and you’ve inspired me to draw my own comics.

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