Build A Writers Group With WordPress

My local genealogical society is building a writers group to help support members writing their family history. It’s a wonderful idea, but often a difficult one to put in place. It’s already difficult to book meeting rooms for the society’s monthly meeting so adding a special interest group meeting could be quite a challenge.

Geneabloggers have already discovered the joys of blogging our family history and research stories. Not only is blogging easy, it is also quite social. Thanks to newsreader platforms and search engines, blogs have a long reach. Most also have commenting capabilities which give your readers an opportunity to respond to your writings. The Geneablogger community grew from those online conversations. In my case, it was encouragement from a lovely group of strangers as I began my transition from tech writing to storytelling. Over the years I’ve been able to meet some of those “strangers” but even those I haven’t yet seen face-to-face are people I am delighted to call friends.

For this reason, I feel that blogs should be an integral part of any writers group. Here’s why:

  • A blog is easy to create and maintain.
  • There’s no up-front cost. Sure, you pay for “premium features” but many of us have no use for most of them.
  • Blogs have legs. Blogs are very search-friendly and are quite likely to attract the attention of research cousins (others researching your family lines).
  • Blogs have a number of organizational elements which allow you to build your family history one story at a time. Researching and writing a short story is much less intimidating than “The Family History”. It’s amazing how quickly those little stories grow into an impressive collection.
  • Connecting with other bloggers gives you perspective and support. Seeing what others have written can inspire your writing and comments from others offer support, friendly critiques and encouragement.

WordPress is one of many blog platforms currently available. The hosted service, WordPress.com, provides a full-featured blogging platform and costs you nothing to get started. Once your blog account is set up, you are ready to start writing. But that’s just the beginning. WordPress has impressive mobile apps [iOS & Android – free] and now even desktop apps [Windows, Mac & Linux – free].  Each connects to both WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress blogs (with the Jetpack plugin installed). Each offers a reader along with the editing workspace. The reader allows users to follow other WordPress bloggers and delivers their published posts right to each member’s reader. It also makes it easy for members to provide feedback to other members’ posts using the builtin commenting system.

It’s the reading and feedback components which make WordPress blogging an impressive tool for writing groups. Here’s how it could work:

  • The group leader creates a “base” blog for the group. This blog is used to post events, writing prompts, how-to articles and to spotlight member articles. It serves as a directory to each member’s blog.
  • Members set up their own accounts and blogs at WordPress.com and begin writing stories.
  • Members announce their blog to the group leader for posting to the group site’s directory and to follow each member’s blog.
  • Members follow each other’s blogs so that when new posts are published, they appear in each member’s Reader.
  • Members use the Reader to read members’ posts and provide feedback using the comments function.

It may take some time and effort to get members comfortable with blogging. The group leader should provide support and encouragement to help them settle in. Fortunately, WordPress offers an impressive support system to help everyone.

WordPress desktop reader
The Reader in the WordPress desktop app for Mac.

Here’s a look at the desktop app’s reader. It’s quite easy to read and post comments on other members’ blogs from here. Using the reader, group members can easily provide feedback – and start conversations – when a member posts a new story. It’s even possible to “reblog” posts to another site – giving the group leader the ability to spotlight member posts at the group’s site. For example, this could be a great way to display posts from members participating in monthly writing challenges.

WordPress desktop editor
Editing a post in the WordPress desktop app.

With these collaborative tools providing continuous feedback on individual stories, group meetings can focus on practical and creative topics to keep members inspired. Who knows … as members settle into blogging their family history, you might just see more interest in publishing articles in the society’s journal.

 

 

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