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Writing Challenge: Write a “Mistakes” Blog Post

Writing Challenge: Write a "Mistakes" Blog PostToday I want to give you a writing challenge – one of many we’ve done during the life of this podcast. We’ve tackled list posts, link posts, opinion posts, calls to action, review posts, and “how I do it” posts, and now it’s time to crack open our vulnerabilities with posts about making mistakes.

As usual, you are welcome to link up the post you’ve written at the show notes for this episode here.

I want you to think about some mistakes you’ve made, or that you see people in your niche or industry making. Write about what these mistakes are and offer solutions to and preventions for them. These types of posts do well for several reasons: people often wonder if they are making the mistakes, then they’ll want to know how to fix it if they do, and where to get help when they realise they’ve done wrong. It also helps keep you relatable to show that you’ve made errors in the past.

In today’s episode I also have six tips to help you write a great “mistakes” post – everything from ideas for content angles, how to personalise the story, and of course, what not to do!

Don’t forget to link up your post at the show notes and browse around other listener’s efforts.

Further Reading:

15 Questions to Ask to Help Identify Your Blogging Niche or Focus

15 Questions to Ask to Help Identify Your Blogging Niche or FocusIn today’s episode of the ProBlogger podcast I wanted to talk about the nitty gritty of defining what your blog is about. Not just to pigeonhole anybody, or to put any constraints on your creativity, but to help you hone in on what you want to provide and how you want to come across online.

This is a question that’s particularly important to think on when you’re first starting out (although experimentation is also encouraged!), but still useful when you’re already established to ensure you’re working within your goals. It’s also ok to change your mind as you go!

Most successful blogs do have a niche or a topic, and in many cases it’s the reader demographic and not so much the topic niche that drives the content. You can cover a large amount of topics if your readers are parents, or retirees – topics can really depend more on the audience than the niche itself.

If you’re struggling with defining your niche, then I’ve got 15 questions for you to ponder – grab a pen and a notebook and jot down your answers as they come to you, and hopefully by then end you will see some themes emerging… and some focus for your site.

You can hear the podcast and questions below, and find the show notes over at episode 59 of the ProBlogger podcast here.

Further Reading:

Feeling a Bit Lost? 4 Ways to Boost Productivity and Motivation on Your Blog

Feeling a bit lost? Here are 4 ways to boost productivity and motivation on your blog so you can get back in the game!There are many times in the life of a blogger when you find yourself unsure of where to go or what to do next.

That can be for so many reasons – when it comes to where you spend your time you’re overwhelmed with choice, you don’t know where to start, you want to do a little of everything and sort of all at once, you’re burned out with decision making, you’re not getting any traction, you’re afraidbasically, you’re a bit stuck and you don’t know what to do next.

The problem is, most of us then just end up doing nothing. Or something that isn’t going to propel you in the direction of where you need to go. Maybe you respond to a few insignificant emails, maybe you check someone else’s Facebook feed to be inspired what they’re doing and get stuck there for half an hour, maybe you throw your laptop out the window and play Candy Crush.

You’re not alone. Well, you probably are if you threw your laptop out the window, but just about everyone I’ve talked to has felt this way at some point. The deeper you get into the quagmire of blogging (blogmire?), the harder it is to find all the hours in the day to do all the things you need to do be the Next Big Thing.

And with all the overwhelming choice, to-do lists, articles you need to read, articles you did read that told you 50 things you now need to do – you paddle about doing not much of anything at all.

The best thing I know to do when I don’t know what to do is: anything. Everything. Something.

Just get started

Like last week when I told you it’s ok to just be done and not perfect, you just have to make a start.

When I’m faced with a to-do list that is longer than a two-day hangover, and even after prioritising my list I still don’t know how I’m going to get through it all, I pick one thing and move one step in the direction toward getting it completed.

I open a new post and give it whatever headline I can think of at the time (I can always change it later!). When it comes to writing the post further down the track, at least a post has been created for it and that’s one less thing I have to do.

Sometimes I open a new post and just write whatever is in my head about what I want to say. And then come back to it the following week. I always get a spark of recognition, which reminds me of something else I wanted to say, and then suddenly I’m off.

Sometimes I look up just one article I think will be a useful resource and take a few notes.

I move one step in the direction towards getting it done [tweet that!] Then the next time I think about writing that post/updating that schedule/creating a social media strategy I feel much better knowing it’s already been started and I just have to swoop in and tie up the loose ends. Sometimes those “tying up loose ends” actually means “doing the whole thing” but it’s a relief knowing it’s begun. And “well begun is half done”, as they say (thanks Mary Poppins/Aristotle).

Feeling a bit lost? Here are 4 ways to boost productivity and motivation on your blog so you can get back in the game!

Do a Brain Dump

This is the fastest way for me to lessen the anxiety that can come with a giant to-do list. It’s such a useful tool for getting everything out of your head and onto something permanent that you can keep adding to, and you can get an overview of everything that’s on your task list which gives you a better idea of where you are, what’s a priority, and what you should be spending your time on.

Use a white board, a piece of paper taped to the wall, lots of post-its, a google doc, an Evernote note, etc – whatever you have that’s big enough to contain all the bits floating around in your head that you need to tackle. Don’t be shy, put every little tiny thing on there and finally get it down once and for all.

Separate those tasks into “right now”, “in the next year”, and “long-term goals”. I often use a new sheet of paper for each of these lists and transfer everything across, but you can highlight them in different colours, or stick them on post-its, whatever works for you.

Feeling a bit lost? Here are 4 ways to boost productivity and motivation on your blog so you can get back in the game! Make a Cheat Sheet List

The next thing I like to do is check that master list of things to do, goals I want to achieve, and sundry tasks to be fulfilled and break them down into as many 10-minute tasks as I can. Then, when I’m feeling a bit lost at sea and haven’t got the motivation (or the time) to tackle one giant job, I pick one 10-minute task from my cheat sheet list (you can have one list for everything, or a list each for the short and long-term goals) and just do that one little task. I often then spend more than 10 minutes on it because I end up getting on a bit of a roll and can often get through quite a few of those small tasks – but it’s easier to sit down and do a small job when you’re feeling overwhelmed rather than be facing a massive job that you just can’t get your head around.

It stops me from floating around in that headspace where everything seems so overwhelming that I end up doing nothing (that overwhelm can often be what contributes to hoarding, as well as the pursuit of perfection, and I definitely hoard tasks instead of doing them!), and means I can actually cross a few things off my list because they only take 10 minutes, and that’s great for a feeling of productivity! And feeling productive then motivates you to be more productive and you feel like you’ve spent your time well instead of wasting it.

Feeling a bit lost? Here are 4 ways to boost productivity and motivation on your blog so you can get back in the game!

Be Creative

Get the brain working with less of the writing and logical bits of the task, and focus more on the creative parts that will spark thinking. Brainstorm the visuals for your post or social media, find an image to use or take your own, play around with fonts, give yourself 10 minutes to think of new ways you can promote the post, or devise a community challenge around it. Maybe think of an out-of-the-box way to create an affiliate post, or a different way to showcase a recipe. When you don’t sit down and stare at a blinking cursor trying to figure out what to write, but instead do some more imaginative, visual stuff, you often find that the task ends up in a natural state of flow and you complete more than you thought you would.

The extra bonus of this is that you find new ways to do things, it sparks ideas for more content, and can even motivate you to do the tasks you were dreading half an hour ago.

So remember: just start, even if you don’t finish. You’ll be thanking yourself next time you sit down to tackle that big to-do list!

What do you struggle the most with? Time? Overwhelm? Comparison? Let’s chat!

Stacey Roberts is the Managing Editor of ProBlogger.net: a writer, blogger, and full-time word nerd balancing it all with being a stay-at-home mum. She writes about all this and more at Veggie Mama. Chat with her on Twitter @veggie_mama or be entertained on Facebook.

The Secret Weapon That Levels the Playing Field for Every Blogger

The Secret Weapon That Levels the Playing Field for Every Blogger - on ProBlogger.netThis is a guest contribution from Ryan Biddulph.

7 years ago I was a broke, depressed, recently-laid-off security guard.

My life had no direction.

I had no purpose.

My self esteem was in the toilet.

I was lost, swaying to and fro on a sea of circumstance.

Today, I am a pro-blogging island-hopper. My wife Kelli and I blog from paradise. We’ve traveled the world for 51 months straight, living in places like Fiji, Bali, Thailand and Costa Rica. I am an Amazon bestselling author. I’ve written too many Blogging from Paradise eBooks to count. I publish a podcast. I may even start Blabbing after seeing Darren’s inspiring Blab sessions.

I’ve lived my dreams because I discovered the secret blogging weapon years ago.

This secret weapon helped me to gain recognition in a crowded, star-studded blogging field.

This secret weapon levels the playing field for every blogger on earth.

Yes….even you!

The Secret Weapon?

My story.

Your story.

Every blogger’s story.

No two human beings are alike, just like no two snowflakes are alike. Every creation is unique. This miracle of life does not exclude bloggers. Nor does it exclude their stories.

Nobody has lived your story and nobody can tell your story in your voice. Only you have lived your special, inspired life, and only you can write in your special voice.

This is why storytelling levels the playing field for every blogger.

Nobody has lived Ryan Biddulph’s life and nobody in human history can tell my story in my voice, as I can. Which is why I’ve lived a neat life in paradise. I use the one branding tool, the secret weapon, that makes me stand out from all bloggers: telling my story in my voice.

What if Your Story Has Been All Struggles So Far?

Tell your struggle-laden story. Then share your dream.

If you’re new to blogging your story needs to include a dream. Nobody wants to follow a pity party. We’ve all been through nightmares but we’re all inherently hopeful. Share your dream. Hook readers.

Your story becomes your secret weapon, leveling the blogging playing field, if it ends with a dream. I want you to inspire me. I want to root for you. I want to watch you overcome the odds. I enjoy watching you crush obstacles.

Once you add your dream to your struggles, you have set the stage for a happy ending that we all want to see. You’ve whetted your blogging dagger. You’ve hammered your blogging scythe.

Billion Dollar Industry

Readers and viewers buy into stories. Literally. Books, movies and TV shows are billion dollar industries. Everybody has a billion dollar story within them just screaming to be told. Be bold. Tell your story.

Practical Tips for Telling Your Story

  1. Write for at least 30 minutes daily. Writing regularly helps you to find your voice. Writing regularly also inspires you to let go the self conscious “my story is not significant” limiting belief.
  2. Read voraciously. Skilled novelists can teach you how to write emotional, inspired stories. I am reading George R.R. Martin and Lee Child now. These two bestselling authors inspire me to become a better storyteller through their masterful writing skills.
  3. Tell your story regularly, offline. Get comfortable chatting up your story with strangers. For example: I drop my blog name and personal story casually into conversations with strangers I meet during my world travels. Doing so gives me greater confidence to tell my story regularly through my blog.
  4. Surround yourself only with confident, inspired bloggers. Allow their transparency and faith in self to rub off on you. Bloggers like Darren freely share both their successes and failures. If he only spoke of his successes his story would be boring because good stories need highs and lows. Learn from him. Follow one of his great success secrets: transparent blogging.
  5. Weave some part of your personal tale into every blog post. Blogging from Paradise readers often comment that they love when I share my personal travel stories. My stories are unique. Nobody on earth can re-create my experience with my writing voice. I remember this before I publish any blog post.

Do You Think that Nobody Cares about Your Story?

7 years ago I was a nobody. I didn’t even know what a “blog” was.

Today I am a fulltime income-earning, island-hopping blogger.

My metamorphosis started with one story. One day I just decided to blog about how I became a pro blogger. I thought for years that nobody cared about my story. Who would really be interested in a security guard turned blogger? It turns out, a lot more folks than I initially thought. Everything changed the moment I opened up. I had to speak up. It took courage to tell my story. It took a willingness to accept criticism. But I am so happy that I chose to tell my tale.

We care about your story.

We want you to tell it.

You have the great equalizer in your blogging arsenal. It’s begging to be used.

Tell your story.

Your Turn

Are you telling your story?

Why?

Why not?

Ryan Biddulph is an Amazon best selling author, blogger, world traveler and the creator of Blogging from Paradise.

5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Pitches and Get More Freelance Writing Work

5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Pitches and Get More Freelance Writing Work - we've got all the tips on ProBlogger.net!This is a guest contribution from Jorden Roper.

You know you’re a good writer, so why aren’t you landing the gigs that you want?

Well, it’s probably because you aren’t pitching your ideas properly.

Because – let’s face it – even if you’re the best writer in the world, you’ll get rejected every single time if you can’t craft an effective pitch.

If you’ve ever pitched, you already know the drill. You email the editor at the website you want to write for. Then…

You wait.

Hours turn into days. Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months, and by that point, you’ve probably given up.

But don’t let yourself give up on pitching completely. With a few simple tweaks to your pitching process, you can get more freelance writing work. Here’s how:

1.    Spend time researching and preparing.

Crafting a good pitch takes time.

It’s not as simple as sitting down at your computer, throwing together an email in five minutes, and crossing your fingers in hopes that you’ll get a response from the editor. I mean, you can do it that way, but you aren’t going to get the results you’re looking for.

Instead, you’ll need to prepare quite a bit. The idea here is to gather the information you need to write the best pitch email possible.

I’ll give you an example. The post you’re reading right now is obviously a guest post. Here are a few things I did to prepare before I pitched my ideas to ProBlogger’s editor:

  • Looked through lots of their existing blog posts to make sure I pitched a unique idea
  • Followed the Problogger Twitter feed and interacted with their tweets
  • Figured out ProBlogger’s target audience and started researching to pinpoint exactly what that audience would be interested in reading about

Make sure you take similar measures to prepare too. Doing so will help you get in the right mindset to create the most effective pitch.

And yes, the preparation process can be a bit time-consuming. But, preparing shows the editor that you aren’t just a random stranger looking for backlinks or any available writing job, which can make all of the difference!

2.    Optimize your subject line.

Your subject line could determine whether or not your email is ever opened, so you need to make it good. But maybe you’re wondering – what do editors want to see in a subject line?

Kelsey Libert, VP of Marketing at Frac.tl, surveyed over 500 digital publishers to find out their preferences. Her survey showed that 42% of editors (the majority) preferred to see the content title and type in the subject line over anything else.

That means you can simply use this format:

Title of Content [Content Type]

Here’s an example:

5 Surefire Tips for Improving Your Pitches and Getting More Freelance Writing Work [Blog Post]

Doing this helps the editor immediately understand what type of content and subject matter you plan to write about, saving them a lot of time and frustration when they’re digging through a full inbox to look for a worthwhile pitch.

But what if you’re simply pitching yourself for a recurring gig (as opposed to pitching an article idea)?

In my experience, this subject line formula works best:

Hi [Editor’s Name], I’m A [Niche] Blogger Interested In Writing For You

So, if you’re pitching your ideas to an editor named Bryan who is looking for a blogger to write about travel topics, your subject line would look like this:

Hi Bryan, I’m A Travel Blogger Interested In Writing For You

This works for three reasons:

Personalization

First of all, personalized subject lines have been proven to deliver higher open rates. One Experian study showed that personalized emails delivered 26 percent higher open rates, and a MailChimp study on personalized subject lines yielded these results:

5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Pitches and Get More Freelance Writing Work - on ProBlogger.net

So, it’s definitely worth your time to track down the editor’s name. Not only does personalization give your email a higher chance of being opened – it shows the editor that you’ve done some background research on their publication.

Capitalization

While capitalizing every word in a subject line may seem like an insignificant detail, it actually does boost the chances of your email being opened. Take a look at MailChimp’s results when they tested the effect of capitalization on open rates:

5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Pitches and Get More Freelance Writing Work - on ProBlogger.net

Capitalizing every word might not affect open rates as much as personalization, but it’s still significant enough to matter. So, capitalize every word in your subject line next time you pitch, and see what happens!

Relevance

By adding your niche to the subject line instead of just calling yourself a writer or blogger, you immediately show the editor that you have the relevant experience they’re looking for. This immediately puts you at an advantage over applicants who force the editor to dig around in their email inbox to figure out which writers are a good fit.

3.    Put yourself in the editor’s shoes when you write your email content

Ready for some tough love?

No editor wants to know your entire life story in your pitch email. You don’t need to use multiple gigantic paragraphs to explain why you’re an ideal choice – be brief and get straight to the point. Here’s what you should include in your email content:

  • 1 or 2 short introductory paragraphs – These should quickly show that you’ve researched the publication and explain why you’re a great fit (focus on what you can offer the editor – not what they can offer you)
  • A few brief bullet points explaining the extra benefits of working with you – Customize these as much as possible. For example, if an editor’s job posting says that they want an SEO whiz who is reliable and communicative, show how you meet all of those qualifications in three bullet points. (Tip: Grouping things in threes provides a greater impact, so always aim for three bullet points.)
  • Some way you’re connected to the editor – Do you follow the publication on Twitter? Have you commented on their previous blog posts? Mention any connection to the publication/editor here to show that you’ve put effort into building a relationship.

Keep in mind that you’ll also need to follow any pitching instructions outlined in the publication’s guest post guidelines. If you don’t, you’re sure to frustrate the editor, which won’t exactly make a good first impression.

Now that we’ve covered what you should include while writing your email, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t do when trying to impress an editor and win more work:

  • Be impersonal – Don’t open your email with “Dear Editor” or “To Whom it May Concern.” Take the time to figure out the editor’s name, and use it.
  • Come off as arrogant/use meaningless jargon – Don’t say something off-putting like “I am a revolutionary writer who will write a life-changing post for you.” Instead, show how awesome a writer you are by including your best writing samples.
  • Talk negatively about yourself – Don’t advertise your lack of confidence and what you can’t do, your pitch should show what you can do for the editor and why you’re a good choice to do it.
  • Pitch a press release for your business disguised as a blog post – Do I really need to explain how tacky this is? Ugh… Just don’t do it.

4.    Pitch the right article ideas.

Remember, editors aren’t in the business of helping writers get published – they’re looking to provide their readers with useful content. Keep this in mind the entire time you’re writing your pitch, and show them what they’ll get from working with you by:

Including multiple pitches

Unless you’ve been specifically told otherwise, you’ll want to include several ideas for the editor to choose from. In fact, Frac.tl research shows that 70% of publishers would rather receive a set of ideas than a finished product on first contact.

And it’s easy to understand why – when you pitch several ideas, the editor has options and the ability to collaborate with you on the piece.

Keeping it relevant

Make sure that all of your ideas are relevant to the site, haven’t been done before on the publication you’re pitching to, and are likely to get results like social shares and traffic from the publication’s specific target audience.

Crafting compelling headlines

Your headlines have a huge effect on how your article will perform on social networks, so it’s important for you to make them good. You should pitch blog post ideas that solve a specific problem that the publication’s target audience is facing.

For example, 5 Tips for Freelance Writers wouldn’t be a good headline because it’s too vague and doesn’t solve a specific problem.

A better title would be Feeling Stuck? Here are 5 Productivity-boosting Secrets to Get You Writing Again because it addresses a common problem that the target audience (in this case, writers) faces. It also includes a number (list posts will always work) and an adjective (“productivity-boosting”) to entice the reader to click.

5.    Proofread your email several times.

Yes, even the best writers make mistakes, but your email is the editor’s first impression of you, so you want it to be perfect. Make sure you get your grammar/spelling right!

Even one simple error could send your email to the trash can. So, always use a tool like Grammarly or the Hemingway App to check over your email before you send it.

That being said, you shouldn’t rely solely on writing tools. We all know that spellcheck isn’t immune to error, so if you’re unsure about your spelling/grammar, have an editor look over your email or do some quick research online to make sure your email is correct.

In Conclusion

If you’re a strong writer, you should be able get a steady flow of work. Put the tips outlined here into practice to start sending out better pitches, and you’re sure to see your success rate improve.

That being said, keep in mind that not every publication will respond right away, even if your pitch looks great. Don’t be afraid to follow up with the editor if you know your pitch was solid but you haven’t received a response.

And, most importantly, avoid letting rejection discourage you. Remember – just because one publication isn’t interested in your work doesn’t mean that the countless other publications out there are going to feel the same way!

What strategies have you used to land more freelance writing work? Let me know in the comments section below!

Jorden Roper is a blogger/copywriter for hire and the founder of Writing Revolt, where she writes about finding success as a freelance writer. Stay in touch by connecting with Jorden on Twitter!

8 Effective Ways to End a Blog Post

So we know how to start a blog post, write a great headline, and hook the reader in, but what happens next? 8 Effective Ways to End a Blog Post: on ProBlogger.netBloggers talk a lot about how to start a blog post – how to craft the perfect title, how to hook the reader in from the first sentence – but equally important is how you end it.

How you leave the reader at the end of your post can have a huge effect on whether they will engage with you or not, how they feel about what they just read, what they will do next, or even if they will return. It’s a great time to deepen the relationship with your audience, be useful, and provide a lasting impression.

In today’s episode of the ProBlogger podcast, I talk about eight ways you can create this kind of environment for readers who stop by your blog, but recommend you only pick one per post! It’s easy to get carried away but less is more, in this case.

You can listen here below, over with the shownotes of episode 56 or on iTunes.

Listen out for:

  • how to effectively sum up your main points
  • tips to get more comments on each post
  • the one thing you can do that really works for shares
  • the value of related links
  • what to do after you’ve written a particularly helpful post
  • examples of incentives you can provide for people to subscribe

Further Reading:

3 Writing Superpowers Every Blogger Needs

3 Writing Superpowers Every Blogger Needs - on ProBlogger.netThis is a guest contribution from Al Tait.

Confession: I wrote this post twice.

I believe in the power of storytelling and I think it’s at the heart of what makes great bloggers successful. So I wanted to write about that.

The first time, I concentrated on the structure of storytelling, looking at what makes a powerful story and how you could use this to create a great blog post. I used words like ‘hook’ and ‘narrative’ and ‘readership’ and … ‘toilet humour’. I did.

And then I realised, about halfway through a witty anecdote about unblocking a toilet (I know, it was late, what can I say?), that I was boring myself silly. Even with the toilet humour.

Part of the problem was that the post didn’t sound like me. It sounded like a Problogger Version Of Me (PVOM), or maybe what I thought I needed to sound like for a Problogger post: someone with authority and credibility and all of the other important ‘ty’ things. I have all of those things, in spades, when it comes to writing, but frankly, if I was bored writing the post then there was no way anyone would bother reading it.

Which got me thinking.

As a children’s author, I visit schools regularly, talking to hundreds of kids about writing. One of the presentations I give is called ‘Find Your Writing Superpower’, and it’s a lot of fun. But it’s contains three storytelling truths that I think all bloggers can learn from.

These are the three writing superpowers that all bloggers need – and how you can develop them.

1. Supersonic hearing:

Writers are incredible snoops. Ask any published author whether or not they eavesdrop and they will unabashedly admit that they do. On trains, on planes, on buses, in cafes, they’re busy using their supersonic hearing to hone in on people’s conversations. Why do they do this?

It’s simple. Ideas and inspiration for stories and blog posts, are everywhere. Writers are simply people who’ve trained themselves to tune in to those ideas when they hear them.

How will this work for you? What are people around you talking about? What problems are they having? Listen hard and you’ll hear the kernel of an idea in every chat you have.

Tools to help: I use Evernote across all my devices to keep track of my ideas, opening a new file for each one and adding to it as inspiration strikes. You could also try Microsoft’s OneNote, or simple dictation (the iPhone recorder is great for this).

2. Batman voice

Everybody’s got a Batman voice. Even now, you could probably pull it out if I asked you to do so (go on, you know you want to…). I tend to ‘do’ Michael Keaton when I’m called upon (though I suspect Michael Keaton wouldn’t recognise himself…), but your Batman might channel Adam West or Christian Bale or even Will Arnett (“I only work in black. And sometimes very, very dark grey…”). The point is that we’re all trying to do the same thing – and they’re still all going to be different.

Voice is the one thing you have that’s yours. There are a million blog posts out there on every subject under the sun – but only YOU can write your posts your way. When I write, I write the way I speak – only better. I’m not trying to be ‘writerly’. I’m not trying to be ‘just like’ anyone else.

How will this work for you? The best way to develop your writing voice is to write. You need to get close, get intimate and, perhaps to begin with, to get off the internet with it. I recommend a daily journal or diary in which to simply write your thoughts down. You don’t need to write down every single thing that happened to you that day – just choose one thing and focus on that. Practice this. It’s a serious superpower.

Tools to help: Personally, I’m a big fan of your basic Moleskine notebook for this task, but I also appreciate the beauty of being able to type your thoughts (my handwriting is terrible…). So, lovely stationery aside, try an app such as Day One or Journey or, if you want to get really creative, try a writing prompt app such as The Brainstormer.

3. Bravery

“Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” – J.K Rowling

The one superpower that every successful author and blogger has is bravery. It takes guts to put yourself on a page or in a post and serve yourself up to others – but that’s what it takes to write really well.

If you want to write a better blog, you need to put yourself out there. And here’s the thing – not everyone will love it. Not everyone will agree with you. Sometimes people will downright reject you. It hurts (oh, trust me, I know how much rejection hurts), but you learn a little bit more every single time it happens.

How will this work for you? The only way to make this work for you is to keep going. If you take every barb and criticism to heart and throw in the towel, you will never be successful. Persistence pays off.

Tools to help: The best way to gain confidence is to gather a community of writers around you for ideas and information. Check out Twitter hashtags such as #amwriting #writetips and #writerslife to find people to follow for tips and advice (I’m at @altait if you’d like to say hi #justsaying).

Immerse yourself in the stories and advice of great writers as well. Five books I’d highly recommend are:

On Writing by Stephen King,

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott,

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

The Writing Book by Kate Grenville

On Writing Well by William Zinsser (specifically aimed an non-fiction writers)

Each of these books is not only educational, but highly entertaining reading, perfectly illustrating the role of storytelling in great writing.

What’s your writing/blogging superpower?

Allison Tait is a freelance writer, children’s author and blogger. She has been a professional writer of stories in one form or another for 20+ years, and The Mapmaker Chronicles, her adventure series for children aged 9+ is out now.

10 Ideas for Finding Blogging Inspiration

10 Ideas for Finding Blogging Inspiration on ProBlogger.netThis is a guest contribution from Larry Alton.

No matter what famous authors tell you, writer’s block is a real thing, and it’s not easy to overcome. If you’ve spent much time in the content creation world, you’ve probably done your fair share of staring at a blank word document, wondering what you should be writing next. However, that gets you no closer to your end goal. If you find yourself hitting a wall the next time a blog post is due, consider these inspirational tactics. 

Set Up Google Alerts

When in doubt about what to write next, stick to current news and events. By setting up Google Alerts, you can always be aware of the biggest trending news topics and subtopics. It also introduces you to new content sources and helps you stay informed about what’s happening with your niche in real time.

Subscribe to Similar Blogs

Be aware of what your competitors are blogging about. Monitor their latest topics by subscribing to their blogs. This will allow you to enter the current conversation rather than end it, which is what your bloggers really want.

The topics others are writing about will give you inspiration for your own blog and keep you up to date on current topics. However, beware of taking the same angle as a competitor. In most cases, you’ll want to take a different angle on the same topic so that you aren’t simply mimicking other blogs.

Post a Poll

Readers love to be given a chance to participate, and posting a relevant poll is a great opportunity to engage readers while gaining useful feedback. You can do this on both social media and your blog post. At least once a week, ask an interesting question and let the answers tell you what your readers want to read now.

For example, you might ask them what movie they watched last, what their greatest fear is, or any other question that could spur relevant content for your blog. If you have a vast readership, consider using a free polling service that will make collecting the results easy.

Invite Guest Authors

If you’ve really hit a wall with no immediate signs of recovery, get a guest blogger to post on your website. This will keep your readers entertained while you take some time to generate new ideas. There are several online tools you can use to find guest bloggers for your website at decent prices.

Take a Walk

Still can’t think of a topic? How long have you been sitting in your desk chair? Your prolonged stationary position is probably only stifling your creativity. The longer you sit staring at the computer screen, the more your brain begins to get sleepy, distracted, and burnt out.

Going for a walk or exerting some other form of enjoyable exercise will help you to be more awake and alert and give you the boost of creativity you desperately need to get writing again.

Blog About Mistakes

The general population loves to read about mistakes. It makes them feel human and allows them to learn a powerful lesson. We’ve all heard the old adage, “You learn more from failure than success,” and readers eat that stuff up. The next time you can’t think of a topic, reflect on a recent mistake you made and create a blog post based on that.

Talk It Out

Blogging is a solitary job, and you can gain powerful insights from talking with a friend or family member. Explain your problem and talk about some ideas you’ve considered or talk through what’s blocking your inspiration. Your friend doesn’t need to know anything about your blog or offer any suggestions. Simply talking about your dilemma out loud is an excellent way to spark creativity.

Write About a Controversy

Do you feel differently about a hot topic than many of your competitors? Address the controversy. Every niche has a subject that’s currently garnering both attention and fire. Don’t ignore what’s popular. Take a stance on the current hot topic and discuss the matter in depth.

Ask Questions

Furthermore, if there’s a controversy in your industry that you’re undecided about, ask your readers what they think. Begin by offering context on the subject and explain a few of your competitors’ viewpoints; then ask readers what they think. This is another great opportunity to engage with your fans, and it will help you come to a conclusion regarding this topic.

People-Watch

Get out of your office and into the world where you can view a world of interesting people making interesting decisions. Go somewhere where your target audience usually congregates, and observe their actions. You can gain a lot with your insights from this activity.

There are hundreds of things you can do to get out of a writing slump and inspire a topic that’s truly creative. One of those things might be entering a community where you can find inspiration for blog posts, network with other writers, apply for gigs, and learn more about your trade.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How She Does it: Blogger Pip Lincolne Talks Finding Time to Write Books

How She Does it Blogger Pip Lincolne Talks Finding Time to Write Books on ProBlogger.net

As Darren said a little while ago, everybody has a book in them, but it’s probably more accurate to say every blogger has at least 10 ideas for eBooks inside them. If you’re a writer, you’ve got a lot to say. You might want to write eBooks, print books, memoirs, autobiographies – a thousand ideas, but realistically not a lot of time in your schedule for your one (or many!) overarching grand plan.

You may well set aside 15 minutes every day to chip away at it, or you schedule some vacation time and get a chunk done. You might stop blogging over a certain period, or you could burn the candle at both ends… the choice always depends on the person making it.

I was given a fantastic piece of advice lately, and that’s if you want to do something, you don’t find time, you make time. So I asked one of the most prolific bloggers I know how she makes time to do write more involved books in addition to all the other things she does. Pip Lincolne is the author of five published books and is a regular contributor to blogs, websites, and magazines.  She blogs at Meet Me at Mikes, and she graciously asked a few questions I had for her recently.

How do you make writing books fit into your everyday busy life?

I prioritize it. You know how you might insist on having a lunch break every day? (If you can!) I treat writing a book as seriously as having lunch and block out an hour or two each day to get the words down (let’s call that a long lunch, actually!) Some days are busier than others, but I always make sure that I spend at least an hour on the book I’m working on to be sure that I’m on deadline, but also to ensure I stay in the zone and keep things flowing nicely.

Do different styles of books take different times to write?

Well, I can only speak from my own experience here. I’ve written books with lots of craft projects in them, and more recently one with only a few craft project (and a more substantial observational-style writing element.)

The books with more instructional elements take more time, because not only are you ‘translating’ practical steps onto the page, you have to test those steps and rewrite and test again.

Although I got my start in publishing writing how-to type books, I much prefer the creative flow that observational writing offers.

Do you have a particular writing style now after writing so many? Is there a rough formula you follow?

I think I have a very consistent style, but sometimes, if I’m weary I might slip out of that story telling, chatty mode and into more of a documentary style. I much prefer the former and think that our writing uniqueness comes from writing in the same chatty way that we’d speak to a dear friend. Of course, if you are writing a more technical text, that might might not always be appropriate, but I’m lucky enough to be able to stay true to the voice that comes naturally for me.

I don’t really have a formula, but I do try to make sure that my work has clarity, flow and warmth to it. I triple check what I write for ‘sense’ because I often find that the sentences I conclude with often belong at the start of the piece (and things might need a brisk reorder and edit.) Often things write themselves backwards, if that makes sense!

I know you write a lot every day so how do you find the motivation to write extra on top of that?

I think that if you want to write well, you have to write often. I’ve certainly found that my writing has improved in leaps and bounds, not only via writing consistently, but also via reading great books and hearing other writers talk about their work.

I’ve always, always felt compelled to write regularly and prolifically. Apparently I have things to say! My great grandfather, Frank Boreham, was the same. He wrote over 50 books – selling millions of copies – as well as penning hundreds of editorials for The Age and The Mercury newspapers. I think my urge to write is in the genes! I can’t fight it! I thank Frank for that.

What are the lessons you’ve learned about the book-writing process over the years?

I’ve learnt so many things! I’ve always worked with wonderful editors, so I’m all about letting go a bit and letting the experts help me to tighten up and simplify my words. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with several great photographers (John Laurie, Tim James and Julie Renouf) and designers/stylists (Michelle Mackintosh and Ortolan.) They’ve shown me how wonderful the collaborative process can be. I think it’s easy to get hung up on having as much creative control as possible, but it’s very important to loosen up a bit sometimes and let others work their magic alongside your good ideas.

I’ve also learnt that it’s important to NOT wait until the night before your book’s publicity tour begins to read it from cover to cover again – especially if the first interview is breakfast radio – because you might be up half the night marveling at how your book actually isn’t half bad and a bit exhausted the next day! Better to do that first-since-published re-read as soon as it arrives in the post, I think!

I’ve learnt that I work best if I write almost every day. Five days a week, minimum, works well for me. It keeps me writing naturally and stops me from overthinking the words or writing too sentimentally.

What are the shortcuts you’ve figured out over the years?

I’ve got a snazzy shortcut for creating a framework for a book. This is helpful for people who want to try writing a book, but aren’t sure where to start. I used this method to write my most recent book. It goes like this:

  • Choose your subject or storyline.
  • Write ten or twelve MUST KNOW (or MUST DISCUSS) points or plot events to fit that subject or storyline.
  • Turn each of those points or events into a chapter title (they can just be working titles at this stage).
  • Write 1000 or so words on each of those chapters (or slot in writing you have already done where it ‘belongs’, under the relevant point or event).
  • Try to write for at least an hour, five days a week. Just get the words down, however they come out.
  • Re-read, rewrite, edit.
  • Repeat as needed!

What do you do with your blog when you write? Is it kept at the same frequency?

I do keep blogging pretty consistently when I’m writing a book, because the more I write, the easier it is to write. I find that when I don’t have a lot of writing work on, the words come less freely. This is part of why I love Julia Cameron’s writing exercise The Morning Pages (from her book The Artist’s Way.) The Morning Pages set the daily task of writing quite a significant amount, long-hand, just for the sake of writing.

I find it’s a great way to stay in shape during the ‘off season’, so to speak! It encourages me to get whatever is in my head (quite messily) down on the page and has a magical way of loosening up the cogs, making writing much easier and more natural for me. I recommend this method to all my blogging students too.

In short: if you want to write well, write more and write daily.

What about social media? How do you keep on top of that, given you’re a personal blog and you can’t exactly hire people to be “you”?

I tend to use social media for sharing others’ work as much as my own. I use CoSchedule to share my own posts to social media. It’s such a great plugin and I’m a huge fan. You can create your social posts and schedule them from within your WordPress post editing window. I do this when I’m finished writing my post, so it’s part of my editorial workflow rather than a pesky ‘extra step’. Then the plugin does the job for you – sharing to Twitter or Facebook in whichever way you’ve asked it to. So streamlined and simple to use! Elephant stamp in the time-saving department for CoSchedule!

I then make sure I check in and monitor/reply to anyone who’s nice enough to talk to me on Facebook or Twitter. It only takes a few minutes a couple of times a day and it means that followers aren’t just yelling into the void (to quote Grace & Frankie!)

When it comes to sharing great stuff other people are doing, I have all my favourite reads on Feedly so I can enjoy the in one time-saving window. I then share the best of my Feedly reading, loading them up in Buffer with a chatty comment, an image and a tag for the great-stuff-creator where possible. Buffer sends them out to my custom schedule and using Feedly and Buffer together is a great time saver (you can also share directly from within Feedly if you like but I prefer to share on the actual Buffer platform as I like the interface.)

How do you know when to say yes to a book?

I think a great publishing deal comes down to working with good people. If you have a great rapport with a publisher, if they’ve got a great track record, if they’re prepared to give you a bit of room to move (so you can have a bit of creative freedom when you’re writing) and a great royalty then chances are it’s a ‘yes’!

It’s also good to know what marketing and distribution ideas they might have for your book, as well as any design vision they might be considering. Then you can see if everyone’s on the same page (!) and if your book will have the support it needs to stand out from the pack.

I’d definitely go for a great royalty over a big advance if you have to choose. I’ve heard people splash around big advance figures – but you’ve got to earn that money back in book sales. A big advance = big pressure! So look for the best royalty rate you can get. The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) recommends at least 10% – but you may find that as a first time author it will be lower than that.

I’d also do my homework and ask for help – perhaps by engaging a literary agent (because they’re smart when it comes to digital rights and other ever-changing details) and joining the ASA so that you can find out more about what goes into making a great book.

 

Has it convinced you that you can make some time in your schedule around blogging to finally get started on that book? What are you writing about?

Stacey Roberts is the Managing Editor of ProBlogger.net: a writer, blogger, and full-time word nerd balancing it all with being a stay-at-home mum. She writes about all this and more at Veggie Mama. Chat with her on Twitter @veggie_mama or be entertained on Facebook.