Tips for Writing Hardworking Posts – Part 1

JohnevansNext in the 12 Days of Christmas Blog Tip Series is a post from hard working blogger (I keep losing track of how many blogs he writes on) John Evans who will write about Writing Hard Working Posts. This will be a 2 part mini-series with his second post coming next week.

Merry Christmas! I’m John Evans and I write Windows Vista and Microsoft Weblog for b5media. My personal blog is SYNTAGMA.

Most book publishers who have been around for a while will tell you that more than half their income comes from the backlist. These are older books no longer found on bookshop shelves but which are listed at the back of every publisher’s catalogue (catalog). It’s classic Long Tail stuff, because buyers usually order by post and sales are typically small and steady rather than spiky, as with new books. The high profit margin comes from the obvious fact that reprinting old titles is much cheaper than setting up a new book.

Bloggers too have their backlists. These are archived posts which have been indexed by the search engines and continue to draw search traffic months and even years after they were written. Many bloggers will have forgotten all about them. Some will be unaware that all manner of folk are still poking around in their archives. These posts cost you nothing in effort, but continue working for you long after they’re done. They are the hardworking posts : the carthorses of your trade.

One example from my own experience was a post I wrote on Blogsmith, which is the in-house blogging software developed by Weblogs Inc for all its blogs. I noticed it was still in beta and asked Jason Calacanis if the blogware would ever be put on the market. He replied that an announcement would be made in the autumn (fall). I wrote a very simple post about this tiny scrap of information.

Months later I was still getting scores of visits each day to this post, particularly from Technorati and Google. I could never quite work out why it was so popular (See Part 2). Then Jason announced that the blogware was being offered to businesses. Naturally, I did a short follow-up post.

But the endless stream of traffic to the old post continued, and one day it occurred to me that if I inserted a link to the new post in the old one, visitors would get two for the price of one. Almost all of the visitors clicked the link onto the new post.

It’s good to have a stats package which gives you this information and allows you to follow the pathways of search traffic to your blog. Sitemeter is particularly good as it includes all the details of a visit on a single page.

So to turn a post into a hardworking one look at the interconnectivity of your old posts and link them in a network of clickables. A good blogger’s backlist could then be as valuable as it is to an established print publisher.

Part 2 will look at why the Blogsmith post was “hardworking” in the first place

Writing Gooder

The first submission in the b5media 12 (or so) days of Christmas series is from Rhys Alexander one of b5’s many bloggers with more blogs than she really knows what to do with. She’s the blogger behind Screamstress (a horror blog) and Literally Blogging at b5. And has other personal blogs that include: Proud White Trash, Online Universities, TV Envy, and Universities. Rhys is also a college professor who teaches writing and literature and has more energy and ideas than I’ve seen bundled in one person for a long time! I hope you enjoy her post on Writing Gooder – she certainly seems qualified for it.

Do you have dreams of striking it rich through blogging? Want to sell your own products, or make revenue off a company’s products? Want to be the king or queen of blogging networks, an online ad expert, an Internet force? Great. But before you can accomplish any of this, before you can even begin to have a hope of success, you must possess one crucial skill. And it has nothing to do with business savvy. It’s good writing.

As a blogger, writing is your main product. It’s the only way your reader or potential consumer has to know you and to gauge what you’re selling, whether it’s a physical product or simply your thoughts. Your writing is what a car is to the car sales person, what the colorful consoles and games are to Nintendo, what the rousing beat and catchy lyrics are to a musician. In blogging, your writing is you.

Unlike stories and novels, where the reader has the luxury of flipping through pages to get to the ‘good part,’ you must capture the reader’s attention immediately. Because something else is always a click away. There’s a reason they’re called ‘hyper links.’

I teach writing and literature courses at the university level, and regardless of the class, we always spend the first three weeks discussing the three crucial elements of all good writing. We don’t have three weeks here, of course, but we’ll cover the important highlights.

All good writing can be reduced to three essential parts: [Read more…]

Mind Mapping – Battling Bloggers Block

This will be the last post in the Battling Bloggers Block series of posts. You can read the full series all in the one place at Battling Bloggers Block.

Blog Tip 25. Mind Maps

I think I’ve talked briefly about Mind Mapping here at ProBlogger before – but have never really expanded upon what I do. I should say up front that I’ve never really had any training in Mind Maps and probably do it all wrong – but I do find what I do to be very helpful in coming up with outside the square kind of ideas.

In short – what I do is get a piece of paper or my trusted white board out and in the centre of it write a word that relates to the post/series/blog that I want to write. I usually put a box or circle around the word – it’s my central idea.

Sprouting out from the central word I begin to write other words that relate to it. Each one is joined to the first word with a line and has it’s own circle around it. These words could relate to the first word in any number of ways. They might be fanciful crazy ideas or thoughts with tenuous links or they might be concrete and predictable ones. At this point I don’t stop long on any word but stay in brainstorming mode.

From these second words come other words that link to them with lines – the process continues. Some threads of thought might end up being 7 or 8 words long, others might stop after 1 idea.

What ends up happening is that the page fills up with words that all link to one another. It can end up looking very chaotic and unordered but amidst the messiness is often a few gems of ideas that I come back to once my ability to brainstorm comes to an end.

At this point I note down some of the key ideas and enter into a phase of exploring each in turn in a slightly deeper and more critical way. I won’t bore you with the rest of the process – but want to leave the first part with you as a great way to get your mind working and coming up with ideas.

Pick a broad topic for your first word and then do this exercise and you might just end up with a plethora (always wanted to use that word in a post) of ideas for posts. You might find a number of series of posts emerge – or even a new blog or two.

I try to do this sort of exercise at least every month (although lately I’ve let it slip). It’s especially useful after you’ve done a bit of a blog review and are looking for fresh direction.

Verbalize your Blog Posts – Battling Bloggers Block

Blog Tip 24. Say it Out Loud

Sometimes I think a lot clearer and come up with better content when I say it out loud before I write it. I wrote about this briefly in Tip 3 but I realized after writing that just how useful the technique has been for me over the years and decided that it deserves a post of it’s own.

As I mentioned in Tip 3, this is a technique I quite often use in my public speaking. If I’ve got a topic but don’t know how to say it I find verbalizing it (usually to myself) can be a brilliant way of bringing clarity and to explore the different options that might come.

As I speak I usually have a whiteboard that I scribble on to record where my one sided conversation leads me. When I use this technique I often pretend that I’m speaking to another person, trying to explain the topic that I’m exploring.

It took me a while to get used to the idea of talking to myself (they say it’s the first sign of madness don’t they?) but once I got over the fear of someone walking in I got used to it and quite enjoy the process. I find I’m often at my most creative in these times and it can lead me to some surprising results.

Of course you don’t have to do it to an empty room – you can find a real person to have a two sided conversation with – just make sure you take a pen and paper and take a few notes along the way.

You might even like to try recording yourself in these times – it could turn into a podcast if you find you’ve got a knack for it.

Read the rest of the Battling Bloggers Block series

Reward Yourself – Battling Bloggers Block

Blog Tip 23. Reward Yourself

Tangent Time: When I was a kid my parents used to use a ‘star system’ where they’d have a piece of paper on the fridge with a table on it with the names of us three kids and the days of the week. Each day we had the potential to earn up to three ‘gold stars’ (little stickers). Stars were awarded for good behavior, doing chores, not doing certain bad habbits etc (basically it was a behavior modification technique). When we got to 50 gold stars we were allowed to trade in our stars for a reward of some kind (usually food or toys).

In a sense it was an incentive program that taught us how to work toward a goal and learn a bit of discipline along the way (either that or it was a twisted child labor type of thing).

It’s actually a technique that I still use on myself to this day. While I don’t have a little table with gold stars on it – I do have certain blogging goals in my mind and I give myself rewards and treats to mark occasions along the way.

It needn’t be a big reward but setting targets to aim for in this way can be a good motivation to keep your blogging moving. I do this both on a micro level (ie at the end of big posts or for reaching a daily posting schedule goal) but also on a macro level (ie for reaching monthly and even quarterly goals).

What goals do you have and what rewards might you put in place for when you achieve them?

Read more about Battling Bloggers Block

Use Other Communications as a Base for Posts – Battling Bloggers Block

Blog Tip 22. Mine your other Communications – A couple of months ago I stumbled upon a podcast that really impacted the way in which I thought about creating content. It was an interview with online entrepreneur James Maduk by Michael Pollock.

James has created many online resources and in the interview he spoke about many things (some of which I didn’t completely connect with but other parts that were excellent). The main message that come out of it for me was the idea of not just creating content when you sit down to create content but to look at ways of creating content of different kinds while you did other things.

He used the example of answering questions from others in email. Instead of responding to questions via email (which can be a lengthy process) and at the end hitting send and forgetting about it – James suggests capturing the content of that email and using it in some way that is bigger than the email itself. For bloggers this might simply be using it fully (or part of it) as a post on your blog. For James it meant using it as some other digital asset – potentially an e-book or sellable article.

James talked about doing the same thing with phone-calls and conversations by recording them and turning them into a podcast – ie mining your other communications to use in your online entrepreneurial activities.

The beauty of this approach is that you end using time more effectively as you kill two birds with one stone by answering the email and also writing a post for your blog. It’s also good because your blog post emerges out of a real life need that someone has that has prompted them to contact you in the first place.

Of course you’ll want to pick and choose the times when this is appropriate. Your readers won’t want to have an insight into every email you send and you’ll need to get permission of the other person if you record a conversation or are revealing any information about them.

Read more of the Bloggers Block Series

Side Stepping your Bloggers Block

Blog Tip 21. Side step Blogging Blockages

Sometimes bloggers block can get completely on top of you and start to get you down – I often get to this point midway through posts. You might known the scenario too – you start off so well and then you get to this midway point where you begin to lose your way. Clarity goes out the window and you start to meander around that succinct and profound point you had so clear in your mind when you started.

While persisting and pushing through can be an option at this point – sometimes I find it best to simply save the post as a draft to come back to at a later point in time.

I quite often sit on posts like this for a few days (and sometimes quite a bit more) before coming back to them. Of course this all depends how time dependent the topic at hand is. If you’re breaking a story you might want to try the ‘pushing through it’ option!

Putting posts aside enables me to clear my mind and work on something else (or have a sleep) before coming back to it with a fresh approach.

The metaphor that comes to mind as I write this is that a good post can be like a good wine that gets put away in a cool dark place for a while once the elements of the post are mixed together to ferment. Some of my best posts went through a very similar process and I suspect are much the better for it.

Take home lessons – don’t rush your posts, give them time to develop and consider taking a break mid post.

Read more of the Bloggers Block Series.

Short Posts – Battling Bloggers Block

Blog Tip 20. Short Posts

If you don’t have much to say, don’t say much.

Resist the pressure to have to fully unpack every aspect of every topic – instead let your readers unpack a topic for you with an invitation at the end of your post.

Web readers are notorious for having short attention spans and staying on websites for very short periods of time – so a short post can be just as effective (if not more so) than a longer one.

They can also give bloggers block a good hiding also as they take the pressure of having to have massive depth in every post you write off a little.

Start Writing the Middles of your Post – Battling Bloggers Block

Blog Tip 19. Start writing the Middle of your Post

If you’re anything like me, one of the hardest parts of writing a post is starting it. Introductions can be easy to get stuck on and so I often simply skip them completely and write the meat of the post first before going back to write the introduction. In a sense your introduction then becomes a conclusion…. at the start of your post.

This is how I was taught to write essays at school and think it applies quite nicely to longer blog posts. It’s especially good when you start out writing one thing and end up writing another!

Read the full bloggers block series