Hi. My name is Ralph. I’m a blogger. And I’ve learned something. Blogging is hard.
Most new bloggers don’t realize it at first. They assume that all they need is a good idea and to take that idea and spit it out at a computer. And while it’s true that lots of bloggers have great ideas for content, what they fail to account for is that there is a wide gap between thinking up a good idea and publishing a completed blog.
For example, a new blogger may decide, “Wow, unicorns sure are pretty. I should write a blog about that.” But when they sit down, they realize that there’s not much to say on the subject.
This leads to terrible frustration and if that frustration level gets high enough, it’ll lead that blogger to abandon their blog.
To help bloggers avoid frustration I’m writing this article to illustrate the 5 steps that I have developed to keep me sane during content development and make sure that the entire ride is trouble free.
Follow this process for each blog you write and you’ll have more time and less frustration.
Step 1: Pitch Your Idea
Chances are when you come up with an idea, you’ll think it’s awesome. After all it’s yours. But the truth is not every idea is a gem. So pitch your idea to someone else. Preferably someone who is either in your target audience or understands your target audience.
Here was my pitch to Web.Search.Social editor, Carol Lynn Rivera:
I’ve developed a few steps to help me write blogs faster and with less frustration. I want to write an article describing those steps and why they are important.
That was it.
If you can’t express your idea in an understandable way in a few sentences then chances are you won’t be able to do it in a thousand words. If your pitch person doesn’t understand what your narrative is, then that speaks more to your idea than their intellect.
If your pitch gets a lukewarm reception, you may want to reconsider it or strengthen it by attacking the subject matter from a different angle. If you pursue a lukewarm topic, then you run the risk of making your audience comfortable with the idea of you as a writer of content that is simply “meh.”
Before we move on to step #2, there’s an important part of #1 that you need to understand:
Assuming you have picked someone reasonable to listen to and evaluate your pitch, you should accept it if they tell you that your topic is not good. If you pitch your idea to more than one person and none of them like it then you can be assured that your bad idea will not translate to a good blog post.
When it comes to ideas, cultivate good ones and abandon bad ones.
Step #2 : Write A Draft
I can’t stress enough that the material you write should never be immediately published to the web. Even the best and most seasoned writers write drafts that are crap. But crappy drafts often become amazing content.
My practice for writing a draft is to write everything I want to say without overthinking it. Just write. I can edit and reduce later. You always want to have more to work with later than not enough.
In terms of when to write your drafts, try to always write during your most comfortable time. Some people are morning writers. Some people are evening writers. Some people write their draft on pen and paper on the train. Find the zone that works for you.
In terms of how long you should write, that’s also a personal decision. I find that I write best with long uninterrupted blocks of time. A half hour here and a half hour there just does not work for me. I also find that I write my best material in the morning instead of in the evening.
It should also go without saying that if you start writing your draft just before your post is due, that will not help you write better. Some people say the looming deadline motivates them, but that’s just stress and emotion taking over. Write at a comfortable pace and give yourself plenty of time to work out your ideas.
Once I feel that I have captured the story I want to tell, I walk away. Maybe for an hour. Maybe for a day. I’ve had drafts in my word processor for months. Why the wait? You need to create a little distance between the story you imagine and the story that is actually in print.
Then reread your draft and make whatever simple adjustments you think are necessary to strengthen your story. But this is important; do not edit for grammar or spelling. Just stick to the story. If you start to focus on spelling and participles and adjectives, you’ll lose your narrative thread.
Make sure your draft tells the story you want told without leaving out relevant information and without going off on unnecessary tangents. If your draft is nothing more than a fractured mess, then perhaps you either need to start step #2 all over again or consider that maybe step #1 was a dud.
Step #3: Present Your Draft
Give your draft to one or more people and let them comment. Ideally you want to go back to the same people with each new piece you write. Doing so lets them see patterns in mistakes you’re making in your writing and they can bring them to your attention and make you a stronger writer.
For example, if they point out that you always write “their” when you mean “they’re” then that will influence you later and help you produce stronger drafts.
For me step #3 is the “what did I say” step. When I hand my draft to my editor, Carol Lynn, I always ask, “What did I say?” If her interpretation of my draft is aligned with my concept then the draft is a success. If the story you tell the reader is way off from what you intended, the problem isn’t their interpretation, it’s your writing. At that point, start step #3 again.
You should note any critiques you get at this point because they will help you strengthen your final version.
Step #4 : The Final Edit
This is where your masterpiece takes final form. This is where you need to move things around and consider pacing. If there is too much exposition, cut it out. If anything is unclear, make it clear.
The most important part of this step is to tell your story in the fewest number of words necessary. Writers tend to try to over describe or over use words that are totally, entirely, and most certainly unnecessarily needed for the pursuit of the…
Ok, just make it short and get to the point.
When I am reviewing other writers’ work, I find that the most common flaws are:
- Too many words. The more words you write the muddier your meaning will be. Find a balance between making your idea understandable and making your text easily readable.
- Repetition. Often writers feel that the way to make the reader understand something is to say it over and over. And over. And over. It’s entirely unnecessary.
- Unneeded tangents. When I used to live in the Bronx, I used to love the way the train looked when it was approaching far off in the distance.
Step #5 : Proofread
If you are thinking, “Shouldn’t I be proofreading all along the way?” Maybe. But maybe not.
I find that when I am proofreading for grammar and spelling, I fall deeply into the details and lose sight of the overall picture. I have trained myself to proof my content only after I am satisfied with the story. That doesn’t mean that you should write and spell like a dolt throughout the process, but don’t get tied down by the details when it can make your story suffer.
Although I don’t count it as a formal step, I do occasionally ask for outside review of my progress, especially for longer pieces. Once you have hit the edge of step #5, you may want to sit on your piece for a bit and let it mature and then give it a final read through.
The Right Way To Blog
The most important lesson you can take away is that there is one and only one right way to blog and that is the way that makes you feel the most creative and takes the least amount of time without the process becoming a frustrating mess.
Here are a few loose “rules” that I follow beyond the 5 steps.
Don’t blog drunk. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll know that I’ve been known to work at a pub or two. That’s fine, but if you are inebriated, you will not produce inspired work. That’s not to say that you won’t get inspired while putting down your favorite lager, but having inspiration and committing that inspiration to words are two different things.
Don’t blog angry. I’m guilty of this. And it’s never my best work. Passion is great, but too much passion skews your thinking. Especially anger. The worst thing to do is to write and publish an angry rant only to regret it later.
Don’t blog anything you wouldn’t say in front of you mom. Chances are if you write in a way that is acceptable to your mom then you probably won’t get fired or divorced as a result. Unless that’s what you want.
Don’t blog exhausted. You will never produce good content if you are half asleep. If you are wide awake at 3 in the morning and want to tear into your 2,000 word opus, by all means, do it. But not if you can’t keep your eyes open.
Make blogging fun, not torture. That thing that you really enjoy, do that while your are blogging. Smoke that cigar. Drink that wine. Listen to that album. Skydive out of that plane.
Ok, not that last one.
So that’s it. That’s my secret world of writing. Now I want to hear about yours in the comments below.
Join the discussion 10 Comments
Great tips! I appreciate the suggestion of presenting your draft, writing your final draft, then proofreading it. This is so important because a lot of times we don’t catch spelling mistakes or the way we wrote a sentence sounded good in your head the first time, but didn’t come across very logical. I will be keeping these in mind as I write my blogs, thanks!
Kelsey, when we relaunched this past week, we found typos in articles that were a year old. It’s crazy, but typos always sneak in.
I really enjoyed this article. I completely concur that proofing is important, and it still doesn’t mean you’ll catch everything. A perfect example is you have, “Publish an agry rant” in this very article!
What typo? I don’t see a typo. Move along. There’s nothing to see here.
Holy cow, look a monkey!
[Escapes out the back door.]
Oh man, I find myself looking for a “like” button. What has Facebook done to me?
Also, “…you wouldn’t say in front of YOUR mom.” LOL
These are all great ideas but many of them seem to be geared more towards professional publications and not single-person blog sites, per se. I have a problem in particular with the idea that a single person running a blog site will be able to get external people to always listen to their pitch, review (present) their draft, and maybe even do some light editing. This just isn’t possible for a lot of smaller blogs without advertising support or a product to sell.
For someone getting started or without a lot of non-author resources, I might amend your post to be the following:
1. Know your audience and who you’re writing for. Project your expertise into the world. If you have an idea for a blog, try coming up with titles for your first 5-10 blog posts. If you run out of ideas around 2-3, you may not have something sustainable. Do you know enough to write extensively about your blog’s topic. Run it past a few friends if you need to, but unless you’re writing the blog for someone else you’re still the final judge on content. Know your subject area and be ready to commit…because you’ll be doing all the work.
2. Just write. Get it down as a preview and let it cool. Walk away from it for an hour or two or overnight and see if you still agree with what you’ve written or whether it came out the way you intended.
3. Get comfortable with writing quickly. Personal blogs move much quicker than professional publication. Be ready to put something out quickly (or rewrite something quickly) as you post.
4. Understand that editing is never over. Clean up your piece as much as you can and make sure it reflects the message you want to spread. You are your own best editor. Post when you’re ready and then reread it for a few days to catch any errors or typos you may have made. Keep up the editing even after you’ve posted. Make adjustments as needed and mark the article as updated if your work materially affects the content.
5. Repeat steps 1-3 for each blog post published.
Again, I like your stuff for an organized publication where there are resources and staff that can fill in the gaps. But for startup blogs or single person Web sites, you’ll have to rely on yourself a whole lot more than you think. Be prepared to do that and the work it entails, and you’ll do fine.
Hi Joe, Thanks for visiting and commenting. We’ll have to agree to disagree on some items that I’d like to add some clarity on. I’m not suggesting that I am right and you are wrong, just that my opinion diverges from yours in a few places.
First, as to your point that my article is geared to professional publications; it’s not. Anyone can have a “team.” I know plenty of “mommy bloggers” that rely on opinions and input from their spouses, sisters, brothers or friends. Everyone has someone that they can pitch to.
A mother in Savannah Georgia can write a pitch and write a blog and have her best friend proof it for her over tea. That does not necessitate a professional or a company or a staff. In fact, the editor of this blog often publishes to her personal blog and asks her mother to listen to ideas and proof her material.
I want writers – all writers – to know that support is available to them even if it’s not in a professional context.
I also want to comment on a few of your points out of order.
Regarding number 2, it’s my opinion that telling the average blogger to “just write” is bad advice. Sitting down to write is not in itself the driving force of blogging. “Writing” isn’t half as important as “thinking.” Once a cohesive idea takes form, then the writing part follows, but simply sitting down to write without purpose or direction often leads to frustration and converts bloggers into former bloggers.
I’ve seen this in professionals and solo writers alike.
Number 3. Writing quickly is great for drafts, but not for a finished product. Even the solo blogger wants to make some semblance of sense to their readers.
Number 4. “You are your own best editor.” No. This is demonstrably wrong. No one is their own best editor. Best selling authors who are talented writers can’t even edit their own materials. I shared that line with a few colleagues and not one agreed with that sentiment. I also emailed it to my fellow college professors and none agreed with it. On that matter, I think you are just wrong.
Additionally, regarding editing never being done, that’s a practical fallacy. And not because I think so, but becasue in today’s amplified web, once you publish something, extracts or full content copies are almost immediately available somewhere out of your control. You may be able to edit your local content, but not the copies that have been distributed via whatever channels the author has.
Finally, I would propose that no person is an island. The idea of “going at it alone” is romantic, but it’s not practical. To quote the Blues Brothers: “Everybody Needs Somebody.”
Thanks for your comment, I hope we can continue this wonderful debate.
Thanks, Ralph. As you said, we’ll have to agree to disagree. A couple of points.
1. While you may not agree with the “You are your own best editor” line, the fact is that many people (myself included) do write and edit their own blogs everyday. While it may not be an ideal situation, it is something that people do all the time. I don’t consider it romantic but a practical necessity…and I like it. Would my blog improve with an editor? Perhaps. I know I’d catch a lot more grammatical mistakes and things like leaving words out accidentally. But for me and others, that’s just the way we work. Collaboration is great but some blogs are individual enterprises and while it’s great to make a blanket statement to the contrary, people can and do write and edit their own blogs every day.
While no one is a island, some of us are peninsulas.
2. Also disagree with your statement that telling people to “Just write” is bad advice. To me, a writer writes and the nature of a blog (as opposed to a publication) is for people to get their thoughts and ideas out for the world to see and digest. It’s like having kids. If you wait until you think you’re ready you will never have that baby…or blog post for that matter. Writing begets writing. Sometimes the writing is good. Sometimes it’s bad. If it’s bad and you don’t like it, you can always delete the post, rewrite, or start over (note: this isn’t possible when you don’t control the blog or are writing for someone else).
If you own the content and a snippet gets posted or referred to somewhere else, I guess that’s just the way it is. I personally never let that stop me from correcting or updating a blog post with new information. A blog post doesn’t have to come out on the Web site fully formed and perfect forever. It can change. Again, the nature of the beast.
Again, it’s hard for me to agree with “Just write” being bad advice because that is precisely what many bloggers need and do. There are some writers who are planners and organizers. And there are some who are “street writers” who are able to put it out there quickly, legibly, and even coherently.
3. Again, writing quickly is sometimes the only option a blogger has, especially when they have a full time job, family, other commitments, etc. Maybe not for everyone but it works for people like me.
If you’re interested, I tried to put these ideas together about 1) you shouldn’t hold back on producing blog posts for perfection; and 2) quality is production; and 3) quality takes time..unless it doesn’t at http://joehertvik.com/?p=4452 . It may not be your coffee flavor but it’s another way of looking at the blog production process.
I think the problem is we’re trying to put out a one size-fits-all advice machine here. Sometimes it’s appropriate to bring in other editors (including your mom, if you like) and other times it works to just write and post solitarily if that’s your thing. Sometimes it’s appropriate to think through, plan, outline, etc. Others you just need to blast it out (ex., a quick piece of news or a tip).
My general feeling is that bloggers should write to their own styles and situations. For many bloggers, your advice is great. For others, my advice works. Rather than challenging your assertions, I think there’s room for other styles and to expand on what you wrote here.
As you said, let’s agree to disagree.
Great tips, Ralph. The only thing I’d add is that blogging angry can produce some passionate, compelling posts, so by all means write the post, but don’t hit publish till you have reviewed in the cold light of day – and run it past your editor again!