As you can imagine, I spend a lot of my time writing blog posts. I write them for us, for outside industry sites and for clients. Luckily, blogging is something that I really enjoy and, because I do it so much, I’ve been able to create a pretty effective process for getting the words out and the posts up. When I was fishing for blog topics on Twitter last week, a few people suggested I perhaps write about how I go about writing posts and share any best practices I’ve found for making it easier. I thought I’d share my framework.
Here’s a look at how I write posts every day, regardless of the outlet I’m writing for. You may want to grab a cup of coffee or an energy drink. This one’s kind of a doozy.
Picking a Topic
This is easily the most difficult part of blogging, at least for me. While I have editorial calendars to help, every blogger has those days where it seems like there’s absolutely nothing to write about. If this is a problem for you, you may want to check out our post on finding blog topics. If that doesn’t help, try doing some reading, searching your analytics or even asking Twitter. Like I said, Twitter gave me this idea.
Once you have your topic, research it to help you figure out what you want to say, what’s already been said and what you can bring to the table. I recommend dropping some notes and links into a Notepad doc this way you can refer to them and link out when appropriate.
Decide on the Goal
Before you put pen to paper finger to keyboard, decide on the goal of your post. All posts are not created equal and your motive behind the post will differ depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. When it comes to post goals, here are a few that typically stand out:
- Optimizing for a particular keyword
- Generating links
- Starting a conversation
- Expressing an opinion for thought Leadership
- ZOMG DRAMAZ!
Whatever the goal is, keep it in the back of your head while writing. Ideally, you should know approximately how you’re going to start the post and how it will eventually sum up. You don’t have to know the actual words or lines you’re going to use, just a sense of where it’s going based on the goal you’ve selected.
Find Your Hook
Once you have a goal, you need a hook to draw readers in. Are you gonna play it straight? Are you going to try and evoke a humorous response? Are you going to use storytelling to draw people in and get them relating to you? Todd Malicoat wrote a great piece on linkbait hooks a few years back that still applies really well to copywriting. I recommend you not only read it, but bookmark it. He mentions using the following hooks.
- News hook
- Contrary hook
- Attack hook
- Resource hook
- Humor hook
- Ego hook
- Incentive hook
Nailing down the hook will help you decide on the tone you’ll want to take to make your point. Once you’ve got that down you can start planning out all the super funny one-liners you’ll want to incorporate. Or…at least that’s what I do. Because I think I’m funny even if you don’t.
Start Writing It
I’m pretty much on blogger autopilot once I hit this point, but I know many people struggle with actually having to write anything. This is probably why I still have a job.
When you go to start writing, remember you’re not starting from scratch. You already have a goal, a hook, and an idea of how you want this thing to go. You’ve totally got this. My best advice for getting a post started is to just get into the meat. Don’t waste a lot of time trying to get into the post, start with a short sentence and get on with it. Ripping off the band aid and getting immediately into your post prevents you from putting so much pressure on the beginning that you never actually write the beginning. Or anything else. Give yourself a quick three word sentence to get the momentum going and then get out of your way.
Here are some other writing best practices I stick to:
- Have a plan: In Dawn’s post about lessons from a first time speaker, she mentions creating an outline of what you’re going to say in your presentation. The same applies here. Don’t create a full high school-style outline, but jot down your major writing points to help you get an idea of the flow. If you’re not a natural writer, this can really help you get your words out and prevent your post from become an unmanageable mess.
- Use simple language: Remember everything you ever learned about writing in high school – and then probably forget it. It’s not valid here. In HS you wrote to impress people. Here you want to encourage your reader to sit down, put their feet up and check out what you have to say. Blogging isn’t about impressing people with your vocabulary. It’s about communication. It’s an entirely different style.
- Write only what matters: Many people will attempt to put everything they possibly know about a subject into a single post. My guess is they don’t want to risk being questioned about their knowledge, told they “forgot” something, or they simply feel it’s necessary. It’s not necessary. If I’m writing a post about the new Kia Forte, I don’t need to give people a history of every car ever made. Only write what matters. Don’t worry if you’re being wordy, just get it all out. But only get out what’s really relevant to this particular post.
- Use your voice: The reason so many blog posts are unreadable is because there’s no taste of the author inside them. In order for people to care, you have to give them a little bit of you. Give them an opinion, wear your heart on your sleeve, and write like it matters. Awhile back I wrote about bringing your voice to your blog for Search Engine People and it’s still one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written. I know I’m biased, but I do recommend it.
- Don’t edit yourself: If you try to write and edit your post at the same time, it’s going to take you five times as long to get through the post. Just focus on getting your ideas out. You can (and will!) edit later.
There’s obviously lots that goes into the actual writing of a blog post[check out our writing tips post], but keeping the above in mind typically help me to get out of my own way and focus on the goal of the post. Often, the post is already inside you. You just have to get it out.
Write Your Title
Some people write their title before the actual post and others wait until they’ve already said everything they need to say to figure out what they said. I’m of the latter group. I’ve already written about the importance of blog titles and some tips on writing blog titles, but the truth is, I don’t consider myself all that good at either. People who ARE good at writing blog titles?
- How to Write Magnetic Headlines, Copyblogger
- How to Craft Post Titles that Draw Readers Into Your Blog, Problogger
Those guys know their stuff. Trust them. Also trust that if you can’t work your hook into your title, you probably haven’t explored it enough.
Grab Your Images
I hate inserting images in posts, but you need them. If you’re creatively-inclined, consider taking your own photos. This will ensure you’re not using the same shots everyone is so your posts don’t feel redundant. Otherwise, Istockphoto and Shutterstock are great solutions, even if you do end up grabbing a photo someone else used on their blog six months ago.
What separates great bloggers from average bloggers is editing. No one sounds intelligent and polished after a first draft. Or, at least I don’t. I hope no one else does either.
The greatest piece of editing advice anyone can give you is to read your posts out loud a few times before you publish them. Read them in their entirety and look for places where you’re being wordy, where you can rephrase something to be clearer, for run on sentences, and for any other areas that you think you can tighten things up. Reading my posts out loud to myself is how I do virtually all of my editing and I think it makes a really big difference. If you’re reading your post and YOU get caught up, then you can be sure someone else is also getting caught up.
Once you’re done editing, congratulate yourself on being more awesome than most. And then go read your post two more times. I’m serious. Editing is key so that you’re proud enough of your post to actively self promote it.
That pretty much sums up how I write a blog post and how I’d advise others to do the same. Anything in your process that I didn’t hit? Or is my process so long you’re now wondering how I get anything done during the day?