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How to Make Getting Sidetracked Work for You as a Blogger

201106242208.jpgIf you’re ever stuck for ideas to write about on your blog, here’s a little discipline that I’ve gotten myself into over the years that helps me a lot.

It’s all about capturing those moments when you get sidetracked while writing blog posts.

Make getting sidetracked work for you

I doubt I’m the only one who gets sidetracked while writing.

It happens for me with almost every post I write. I start out writing about one topic and at some point through the post I find that I’ve gone off on some tangent. The tangent starts off relating to the main topic that I’m writing about, but quickly takes me away from what the post is really about.

When the realization dawns on me that I’m off on a tangent there are a few choices that can be made:

  • Leave the tangent in: Sometimes. getting a little sidetracked in a post actually works. It can add a bit of interest, serve as an example, and make your post better.
  • Delete the tangent: This is what I used to do most often. I’d sigh to myself about my rambling, highlight the offending paragraphs, and hit Delete.
  • Use the tangent as the basis for a new post: One day as I was about to delete a tangential paragraph, it struck me that while it didn’t belong in the post I’d been writing, it still contained value and could probably be used elsewhere. Instead of deleting it, I copied and pasted it into a new text document, which I returned to later to turn into a new post.

These days, I do it all the time (in fact this post started as a tangent in another). I’ve now extended the idea, and almost every time I finish writing a post I take a moment or two to re-read the post and look for places where I could have gone off on a tangent.

Look for those parts of the post where you could have said more, where ideas weren’t completely finished, or where you think the reader might be left asking questions and wanting to know more about something that you’ve said. It’s those parts with which you could start your next post.

The beauty of building this discipline—of making tangents and getting sidetracked work for you—is that you not only come up with new things to write about, you also build momentum on your blog. One post leads you to another one, and you’re able to take your readers on a journey with you by linking the posts together.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Jacob says:

    Your third point is actually something that you’ve talked about a lot on ProBlogger. If you build one post off of another, you are then able to expand your reader’s understanding about a particular topic. It happens to me often and I’ve found that when I build off the previous post with a tangent, I’m able to first help my readers out with more information, but secondly, it gives me a SEO boost because I link back to the original article. So, my readers click through, my bounce rate drops and the number of page views increases which advertisers want to see.

    • Hey Jacob,
      I couldn’t agree more. I get to going on a tangent and it get to long

      For the microwave society, reading a long post isn’t appealing

      So using your strategy is a great one. Make a series out of one topic and
      a person gets the results you mentioned

      Good stuff,
      Jeff Faldalen

      • Gregory C. says:

        Not sure that I fully agree on this, some of my favorite blogs go in-depth in their posts, and often hit over 2000+ words, but that’s what keeps making me come back: the posts really go into detail and aren’t just some wishy washy posts to keep the blog updated.

        I guess it depends on the topic at hand though, for some topics I would agree, sticking to smaller posts is better.

  2. Himanshu says:

    i also agree with the third pointing. noting down the tangent and using it for a new post works best for me

  3. The third option is gold – the last time I sat down to write a post the tangents turned into 4 more posts!

    Anything that sends you off on a tangent or a tear/rant – anything that emotionally engages you like that – is worth considering as a separate post. Chances are if it gets you riled up, it will resonate with others as well.

    • janwong says:

      I often find myself in the exact same position as you are! I go about typing a very long post and I end up breaking them into several different posts – simply because it did not fit very well together.

      Great advice, Darren!

  4. Morgan says:

    Hey Darren,

    It’s kind of like just writing our your stream of thought. You write it all out, and from that, you can usually get inspired for a real blog or even just edit your stream of thought to make it useable.

    And you make a very good point about using the tangent for another post. I do that all the time and it really works!

    Great post!

  5. David says:

    So true!

    This just highlights that writing is a way of organizing and cementing out thoughts. It’s a way of thinking, and thinking is organic.

  6. One thing I do similar to this is I have a Google Docs spreadsheet open at all times when I’m working at the computer because I get so many random ideas. I finally learned that instead of going off on a web journey to look into a new idea, to just write it down for later and finish what I’m doing first.

    • Darren Rowse says:

      good tip Nate – having a document of some kind open to capture ideas is something I think a lot of bloggers could benefit from.

  7. Hi Darren,
    Just started checking out your blog a few days ago, great stuff

    If I could ad an idea, is to carry with you at all times
    a moleskin, so you can write down ideas as you have them

    A person can pick them up at any bookstore. This is what the philosophers of
    old use to carry with them so they wouldn’t forget a thought

    I have many and it seems continually writing ideas only stimulates more

    Thank you for your contribution and I look forward to learning more
    Jeff Faldalen

  8. Vic says:

    Excellent Advice! I run into tangents all the time while writing. I usually leave it in my writing because it would be to discouraging to have to delete progress. But, I will use your advice about starting other articles from unrelated topics.

  9. I agree with your observations. Sometimes I expand what I’m writing and then I go back to the initial point, but I don’t delete anything in order to make my article simpler and really focused on my main subject. The sidetracks make the article more interesting because various descriptions give more explanations to the reader.

    Other times I see that when I delete various paragraphs my article becomes more objective and substantial.

    However, everything depends on time. This is a general truth. I always have to read each article many times, while gradually improving it. I’m trying to write my articles beforehand for this reason, but sometimes it’s hard to maintain the production at the same level.

  10. Stuart says:

    That’s very interesting Darren, because I find myself going on off tangents when I write my posts, and I struggle to figure out what to do with them. More often than not, I’ll leave it in, but edit it in some way.

    What I can’t do is delete it entirely – I think that’s a waste of writing, and I think that everything we write has some use for us in some way. Which leads onto the third point about making a post out of a tangent.

    On another note, I used to follow Leo Babauta’s example of just writing until I was done, then (once spellcheck was done) publish it without editing it. This worked out until I realised that although I enjoyed the flow, I knew that through editing, I could make it so much better. I could add more, cut out the fat, and do an improved version of my post.

    I guess everyone has their own take, but I refuse to completely delete writing ;-)

  11. When I feel a tangent coming on, I just keep typing as fast as possible and sort it out later. This has definitey improved the tone and content of my posts on many occasions. It has also led to many new posts with a related topic.

  12. Alicia says:

    Usually, I go with the third option and turn it into another blog post (if possible) (deleting is soooooo hard! haha). Sometimes I can catch it early enough that I haven’t really wasted too much time; I just cut & paste what I have into a blank document and flesh it out later. Other times, I’ve gone so far off on the tangent that it makes more sense, time wise, to just change the topic of the current blog post (and work on the original topic/post later)!

  13. Neville says:

    There’s nothing more reassuring than to know that there are lots of other people out there who find that their posts can head off in unexpected directions.

    Thanks for confirming this and providing a strategy for dealing with the dilemma. I’m sure that there’s many a good idea that has come as a spin off from what the original thinking was about.

  14. Whenever I start writing a post, my post definitely goes off on many tangents – and I let it. Then after my first draft, I start collecting those for generating new posts, works well. Great post.

  15. James Greg says:

    It’s always a pleasure to read Darren’s work. It always has something new. The tangents idea is just great. I’ve learned a lot from this post. Most of all I’ve now learned what a tangent is.

  16. Well said Darren. You can get more ideas from the “sidetrack” and that will help to build up more post. I am also doing similar thing, which is to jot down any idea that pop up on my mind on notes or notepad (if I sit in front of PC) and prioritize that so that I can implement them accordingly!

    Cheers,
    Ming

  17. Aaron T says:

    Gosh, good to know it isnt just me that slips off track and starts writing other stuff.Especially that this happens more experienced bloggers. Its handy to have a notepad instance open to catch those tangent points to spin them into new posts like already mentioned.

  18. Interesting!

    I was just writing about how going off on tangents can sometimes create a sense of anxiety and worry that focus is lost and the purpose of writing has become unclear. This need not be the case, as you write here.

    I like the idea of the three options you have when a tangent pops up: keep it, because it somehow “just works” in the context, delete it because it doesn’t, or use it as fossil fuel for an upcoming post.

    Another option might be to periodically edit together a tangent montage in a kind of crazy, entertaining fashion – a greatest hits of a sort!

    Thank you, as always, Darren.

    Peter

  19. I think it will work if you review your first draft and then shape it into a coherent article. If it doesn’t jive with the following paragraph, create another one that can connect to it fluidly.

  20. Sometimes I get on a tangent and find it far more interesting than my original idea, so I just run with it and save the original idea for a future post.