Introduction - Blogging as a process
Blogging can be a significant part of anyone's working day when they are involved in Internet marketing. It is therefore important to have a process that allows blog posts to be produced effectively and on time. This article sets out what works for me.
My approach is somewhat more elaborate than that proposed by Lyndon Antcliff who suggests there are just 3 Steps to Becoming a Writing Machine. His 3 steps are:
- Write every day, at least 5 or 6 days a week.
- Get a routine, find the best time you work and keep the rhythm
- When not writing, think about writing. Always carry a notebook to capture those little thoughts and ideas.
I think it is important to be writing what I have labeled fresh blog posts. Fresh is a very positive word and the objective is to write blog posts that fit that label. The process here will show how we do that. It involves three somewhat more elaborate steps, which are as follows:
- Get Creative
- Get The Right Big Picture
- Write The Blog Post
This does not involve a huge amount of head scratching and you will not end up with writer's block. This is a process which works if you just follow what is described.
The process does not start with a blank sheet of paper, There are certain tasks which, if done routinely, will mean that the ideas come up automatically. Trust me: it works
Keep the radar on
It is important to be alive to what is going on. Your radar can take many forms. Perhaps you scan RSS news feeds in Google reader or Feed Demon to spot items that could be of potential interest as blog post topics. Or perhaps you arrange for Google Alerts to signal to you by e-mail when posts or articles have appeared for keywords that you believe are important.
Any of these items that seem to be of potential interest as references in a blog post should be recorded in a text file. That's one text file for each potential blog post. I find it convenient to use Metapad, since this has many useful formatting features and most importantly, URLs when typed are always clickable so that you can access the particular web page.
You should then give this notes text file a name which will remind you of the topic. I usually include the date in the filename. For example the text file for this blog post was named 091020sep-freshblogposts.txt. This tells me that I started the text file on October 20th, it is for a blog post on the Search Engine People blog and the tentative title is fresh blog posts. I may end up with a dozen such text files as ideas come. They may be very short since it is only to capture an idea. Only half of the text files will actually he turned into blog posts, but when I am ready I look at the available topics and choose one which appeals to me.
When ready to write, look around
Although the topic may have suggested a particular point of view, it is important to be creative and allow other ideas to surface. This is done for two reasons:
- To be aware of what others have written, perhaps very recently - you do not wish to merely parrots what others have said.
- To see whether in scanning relevant items, this suggests a new way of approaching the topic.
I tackle this exploring process in the following way.
First I think of a tentative title of the blog post, which is likely to be one that could be highly visible in Google. In all probability this will not be the final title but it is a hook for ideas. I use the following tools in seeing what items are related to that potential title.
The title is a critical choice for the blog post and should balance attractiveness to the human reader and visibility in Google searches. This is not necessarily the final choice since what happens in the following steps may suggest a more appropriate title.
If the blog post is to be fresh, then it cannot be 'same old, same old'.
Comparing what has been written in the past, it is usually fairly easy to suggest a point of view which may be novel to the readers.
For example, you may take issue with the views that someone else has expressed. Or instead perhaps you would build on and extend the thoughts of someone with whom you are largely in agreement.
Throw up ideas - Capture in a Mind Dump
Having got a general sense of what a blog post will be about, now comes the time for the traditional creative processes.
Capture all the words that come to mind in thinking about your topic. If you have a big white board on the wall, then you can rapidly throw up words that relate to the topic. It is useful to move the words around later as you try to group ideas so writing each word on a Post-it slip is an effective way to do this. Or you could write words on small pieces of paper and shuffle them on the table. At the very least you can scribble down the words on a sheet of paper.
Do not try to limit your creativity. Rapidly write down all words that come to mind. Use the traditional word tricks of thinking of opposites, or superlatives or synonyms. Ask the traditional questions of Who, What, When, Where, How and Why. In a second phase you will be cutting out the ones that are less appropriate. For now, make sure you capture them all.
As a way of capturing this multitude of possible thoughts and ideas, I find Mind Map software to be the ideal solution. With such an approach, once all ideas have been generated, then the mind dump can be easily culled down to an effective mind map. However in the first instance, you want to be sure to capture all potential ideas, since any one of them may turn out to be superior to all the others. At this stage you have a Mind Mess. That is precisely what is needed if a truly fresh blog post is to be created.
We now move on to the next phase, which is the one that is often overlooked. Keeping people engaged as they read through the blog post can be a challenge. You need a way of helping them situate themselves in terms of how the discussion is proceeding. This requires that you have the right big picture view of the whole blog post structure.
Get The Right Big Picture
You now need some way of taking this mind mess and putting an appropriate structure in it. This is where the mind map process comes into play.
Turn Mind Dump Into Mind Map
A mind map is a summary way of showing how topics link together and how the logic moves from one topic to the next. For this process I thoroughly recommend FreeMind, which is a free mind mapping software. Although it has a host of features for the serious mind mappers, I use only the most rudimentary features. It is little more than a text file where you can rearrange words in spatial groupings to better give the flow of ideas you are looking for. Here is an early version of the mind map for this article.
This layout of the ideas embodies one of the most important principles in developing blog posts or even speeches that will engage your audience. This is the so-called Rule Of Three.
The Rule Of Three
I first became enamored of the Rule Of Three after listening to sermons in the Anglican Church when I was young. Some preachers would ramble on for what seemed like hours without giving any indication of when they might stop. Such sermons were extremely difficult to sit through. On the other hand other preachers would clearly flag what they would be talking about and listening to them was very much more straightforward.
The Rule Of Three states that in a list there should only be three elements since more than this leads to discomfort on the part of your listeners or readers. Thus at the highest level a speech or blog post should have three parts. In a speech you start off by telling your audience what you will be talking about. Then you talk about it. Then you conclude by explaining to them what you have talked about. Most human minds will have a problem with any list that has more than three items in it so this approach is one that most people find acceptable.
As an extension of this idea, within the second part where you cover what you're talking about, then here again you should have only three items. These will be roughly of equal importance and one should lead naturally into the next.
The mind map allows you to group together words and phrases so that you can explore the best way of retaining the best thoughts in three subtopics. You will find that you may move parts of the mind map around to give a better connectedness of ideas and flow of the logic. Indeed you may cycle around this a number of times to get it right. Only when you have a structure of the headings in the blog post that you are completely comfortable with should you consider moving on to the final stage.
Write The Blog Post
You now have the structure of the blog post and the main headings. At this point, the work now switches to an organized task to flesh out each of the subtopics that have been listed in the mind map.
Actually writing the content around this structure is probably easier than you might imagine. As you write more and more blog posts, you will find it becomes easier all the time.
One piece of software that can make this step extremely easy is dictation software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking. I use this all the time. You can imagine yourself talking to someone to explain the topic and as you talk to that mythical person, the Dragon Naturally Speaking software turns that into text. Talking to your mythical listener will also give a more natural flow to your words and you won't be tempted to get too elaborate.
The software is very much faster than you could type (on average three times faster). Of course it does not get everything right, so you will have to go back over the text and correct any typos or plain misinterpretations. The Dragon Naturally Speaking software does include processes that will learn from past efforts and improve the interpretation of any words or phrases that have been misinterpreted. This is achieved by training the software when the software misinterprets a word or phrase. Again I would highly recommend this approach but it is a matter of personal preference as to whether this will work for you.
The blog post writing process as described might seem more complicated than just sitting down with pencil and paper or tapping away at the keyboard with whatever comes to mind. In practice if you develop a routine following the steps above, you will find it is no more onerous than the apparently simple way of just doing it. The advantage of the process above is twofold:
- Writer's block is avoided. Indeed there are usually too many topics to cover if you are at all aware of what is happening out there.
- The final blog posts that you will produce by following this process are very much more likely to be fresh and ones that engage your readers.
Like any routine, you will find that it becomes easier and easier as you follow it more often. If at first, you chafe a little at the extra discipline, then still try to persist because, trust me, it will get easier.