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Redefining “Quality Content” … And Writing It

Sometimes, I think that if I hear the cliche “content is king” one more time, I’ll scream.

…Okay, maybe I already have. Everyone’s talking about content marketing now that Google’s put (more) emphasis on “quality content”, but no one really seems to be talking about what “quality content” actually means.

Is it content that converts? Content that’s shared? Content that ranks well in the search engines? Content that “resonates” with readers? All of the above? Something else entirely?

And: where can we start creating this “quality content”—if, that is, we’re not doing it already…?

Enough with the cliches! What we need are some answers.

Quality content: a new definition

I think quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Something that has value for me may have no value to you at all. So quality is closely linked to audience, to the idea being communicated, and to the way it’s communicated. But ultimately, I think it’s a pretty subjective description.

As a freelancer, I’m sometimes asked to write content that I’m not exactly excited about. Obviously as bloggers, we would never publish something we’re not proud to put our names to on our own blogs. But if you’re paid to write, sometimes client desires can see you writing copy or content that bores you to tears, or worse: makes you cringe.

Well, if “quality” is subjective, then I think our most basic definition of the term should entail a level of interest that captivates us as human beings. If your writing doesn’t intrigue you, how will it ever intrigue someone else?

So my new year’s resolution for writing is: don’t write what you don’t want to read. (Easier said than done with some clients!) To me, that’s the basis for quality content.

The elements of interest

There’s a lot that goes toward making a post interesting. Topic, writing style, angle, and presentation are just some of the keys to keeping readers reading, and minds cranking over.

Of those, topic and presentation are probably no-brainers for most bloggers and blog posts, most of the time. But if you see blogging like that, you’re probably headed for writer’s block and a blogging rut. If you decide you’ll only ever use text and images, and you won’t look at certain topics in your field because they’re not really “you,” you’re already cutting of your options for creating real, genuine interest among your readers. And, most likely, for yourself.

As for angle and writing style, these are two areas that I think can interact really well—two aspects that can help each other to develop if you let them. How? With the help of the Golden Rule for Better Blogging.

The Golden Rule for Better Blogging

That Golden Rule is: try something you’ve never tried before.

It sounds deceptively simple, but in practice, it can be daunting. Here’s how it might play out for your blog writing:

  • Never written a sales page before? Write one. If you don’t have a product, imagine one of your competitors’ products is yours, or dream up a product you’d like to offer and write a sales page for that.
  • Wish your writing was more sensitive/dynamic/powerful? Study an author or blogger you feel has this talent, work out what they do, then try to apply those techniques in your own writing.
  • Scared to pen an opinion post? All the more reason to draft one. Now.
  • Been putting off making approaches to other bloggers about teaming up on a project? Open up your email and start writing … from the heart.

Better blogging is about pushing the boundaries of what you know you can do. Better blog writing is a variation on that theme. Pushing the boundaries of your blog writing capabilities can be hard when you feel you’re not sure where those boundaries are, or you’re overwhelmed by the amount of advice that’s available to help you overcome that particular challenge.

The answer is to take it one step at a time.

An example: my writing style sandbox

Toward the end of last year, I realized there were certain bloggers and writers whose styles I really admired. At first I wished I wrote more like them, but I soon realised that what I actually wanted was to develop a more engaging writing style of my own.

I studied their techniques, but instead of emulating them, I wanted to use the feeling it gave me as grist to my own creative mill.

So I developed an idea for a blog, wrote a couple of posts, and launched it. The idea is to experiment with personal narrative as a vehicle for deeper connection with readers.

For someone who’s more used to writing other people’s product sales pages and email autoresponders, this is a bit of a shift. It’s outside my comfort zone. It’s beyond the boundaries of what I usually do. And the whole point of it is to experiment with writing techniques—to have a sandbox in which to play.

Your writing style sandbox doesn’t need to be a blog—it doesn’t need to be available to the world, and regularly updated. You could have your sandbox take up an hour every Thursday night, and a new folder on your desktop. Your sandbox could comprise a mutual writing critique session with a trusted friend once a month. It could be whatever you want.

No aim, no gain

The objective of this post is, first, to get you thinking about how you define “quality content” and second, to encourage you to set a goal to reach for better quality content every time you put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper).

The important step is for you to look at writing that you believe reflects the qualities your own content lacks, and from there, to set a goal to work on those elements in whatever way suits you.

Without an objective, you’ll find it hard to improve. While we could look to our traffic analytics, shares, and so on for “proof” that our writing “quality” is improving, since the measure of quality is to write something you want to read, the best measure of your “success” will probably be a feeling rather than a figure.

What does “quality content” mean to you? And what are you doing to move toward it? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

Top Journalism Techniques for Smart Bloggers

This guest post is by Matthew Brennan of Matthewlbrennan.com.

Stop for a second and consider this blog post opening:

“Matt rose from his unpadded chair, and stopped to scratch his head and stare at the empty document on his computer. He tiptoed through his pitch-black apartment at 2 a.m., careful not to step on the sleeping cat.

“He opened the refrigerator, stared into the bright light, and settled on making a ham and cheese sandwich, even though he wanted turkey. As he arranged the lunchmeat over the bread, inspiration struck. Once he returned to the computer, food in hand, he began clinking away on the keyboard, knocking the words out.

“Matt defeated another case of writer’s block…”

How to make your readers invest in your work

It’s time for small business bloggers to reconsider how they package their blog posts. Search results always turn up several (or more!) posts on the same subject. Providing a new twist will help yours to stand out.

Journalists can teach bloggers something when it comes to enticing a reader. A good journalist is always considering how to make their story stand out. They’re regularly competing with their counterparts from different newspapers, but also with the journalists who wrote the stories that surround theirs.

They crave the attention of a reader. They act on it by capitalizing on the human element.

Journalists are master storytellers

They implement a little-known writing secret: people want to read about people. Journalists know that readers want a little action with their morning coffee.

So, when you sit down to write a “list” blog, why not give us those tips with a little action? My initial example could easily be summed up in a short sentence on a list blog:

“To defeat writer’s block: Get up and move around. When you walk away from the computer inspiration can strike.”

Sure, this might be helpful, but seeing it in action creates a stronger mental image. I guarantee your competition will likely not write about the creative inspiration stirred up while fixing a ham and cheese sandwich at 2 a.m.

A personal story shows that your tip or trick works. It shows the frustrations that come with writer’s block, and the corresponding action to battle it.

Zoom in, zoom out

Journalists give us a close-up image. Think of it like a magnifying glass on somebody performing an action. Once they have a reader hooked, they pull the magnifying glass back to give us a view of the big picture.

Say, for example, you own a health club. Instead of just dully writing about the three best exercises for flatter abs, maybe you begin the blog writing about your workout, or the workout of one of the trainers.

If it’s working for the poster child of the physically fit, readers will be more interested when you pull the magnifying glass back to establish the bigger picture.

Try these techniques yourself

Bloggers could benefit a great deal from a dose of personal storytelling. It creates a stronger investment from your reader. The greater the investment, the better the chance they will complete your call to action.

Go ahead, pick up the New York TimesWall Street Journal, or the USA Today. There’s a great deal you can take away from the high quality of writing these publications offer.

Don’t be afraid to go tell a personal story! What are some of the better examples that have worked for you in the past? Tell us in the comments.

Matthew Brennan is a freelance journalist and copywriter, telling stories in the Chicago area. He blogs and runs his copywriting business at Matthewlbrennan.com.

Can’t Find Your Voice? Find and Share Hidden Treasures Instead

This guest post is by Traci Dillard of allstayathome.com.

It’s important to have a strong and likeable voice as a blogger. If your followers don’t like your voice and article flow, they probably won’t return to your blog.

Equally important is what valuable information or “hidden treasure” you have to offer to your readers. This can also be a driving force to ensure repeat traffic.

Depending on your niche, it is important that you keep your information current and share helpful resources with your readers. Not only will you find that readers will return to your blog to catch the latest information, but you will begin to see your list of followers grow as well.

Resources can compensate for voice

If you are having trouble finding your “voice,” having a blog full of powerful resources and lists can help to compensate for this.

Your blog must be useful to those seeking the information you’re sharing in order to attract and keep visitors. If your blog is a reliable source of information in a specific area, this alone can work wonders.

Set your goal to become the best in your niche

The key to success with a blog is to strive to provide the best information in your niche. If you aren’t already an expert on the topics you write about, you need to become one. This means you need to study your competition.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are they doing to gain and keep followers?
  • What secrets do they share?

While you don’t necessarily want to share the same information they share, you should gather better information to stay a step ahead of your competition. Do as much research as you can, dig around, and learn as much as possible about the subject of your blog.

You cannot maintain a successful blog if you offer insufficient or incomplete information on a subject. You must master the niche and this requires thorough, ongoing research.

Organize your information

Once you gather information, keep it updated and organize it on your pages so that it is understandable to the reader.

You will see the most traffic from posts that contain organized lists as well as helpful “how-to” information that is up-to-date.

Keep posts original and unique

Sure, you will have to gather resources from around the web and other places, but the trick is to gather a wealth of information from many different sources and give your audience the best of the best! You want to wow your readers.

When a reader finds the information you offer to be powerful and interesting, they will most likely want more of what you have to offer and will therefore be more likely to subscribe, follow, and comment on what they’ve read.

The feedback from readers is a valuable tool in making your blog even better.

How and where should you gather resources?

In order to gather the best resources for your readers, you are going to have to invest some quality time. You will need to devote a time specifically for research on the topic you are blogging about. Think about the list(s) or specific information you want to provide and take advantage of the web. Use the following types of sites to find the information:

  • Forums: Forums are a treasure trove of hidden secrets. Find some forums specific to your niche and do some digging. You are likely to find some gold!
  • Discussion boards: Other discussion boards, like Q&A boards are also a valuable tool for finding the information you seek.  While doing a search on Google or other search engines, specify your topic and also enter a discussion board or choose from the options in the search engine.
  • Blogs: Search specifically for blogs that have information about your topic. Blogs are another hidden source of great information.
  • Wikis: Wikis and online encyclopedias offer valuable information usually written by experts in their fields. They are great for finding information on specific topics. In addition, Wikis usually contain lists of other reliable resources.
  • Social sites: There has been an explosion of social sites in recent years, so listing them all would require a completely separate post, but sites like Stumble Upon, Digg, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are of course among some of the better sites where you will find information you may not otherwise find from a basic search.

Use more than one search engine

If you are a loyal Google searcher, break out of your comfort zone and give some other search engines a shot when looking for the information you need.

Search engines do not display the exact same results in the same order. This is beneficial when looking for specific information. Try Bing and Yahoo as alternative search engines.

The keys to success

Before posting, check and re-check your spelling and grammar. Nothing turns a reader off more than an article that is rife with spelling and grammar mistakes. Use the spell check first, then proofread your work yourself or have a friend proofread it. Spell check is good, but it doesn”t find all the errors, so take extra time to make sure your work is flawless.

Hard work, dedication and consistency will pay off, but patience and belief in the posts you create are the keys to success. It is important to post regularly, but a good rule to live by is quality over quantity. This will lead to better search engine ranking and an overall better following in the long run.

Become the voice for your resources

After gathering your resources, think of yourself as the voice for the power of these resources.

Carefully analyze and share how the information, piece by piece, can help your viewers. This is where some creativity and thinking outside of the box can play a part. Give your readers ideas that will work and ideas that nobody else is sharing.

Anyone can just create lists, but you can turn these lists into gold!

Traci Dillard is the founder/owner of allstayathome.com, a trusted source for freelancers and home workers. By day, she is also a content and SEO specialist for Your Web Pro, LLC. In West Texas.

23 Top Tips to Make Your Blog Posts More Conversational

This guest post is by Marya Jan of Writing Happiness.

Let’s face it; most blog posts that are currently being put out are simply b-o-r-i-n-g.

Dull. Unexciting. A big fail when it comes to keeping our attention.

The blogger is writing about a worthwhile topic no doubt, but the writing does nothing for the reader. It fails to engage, or draw you in. Even when you are supposed to be paying attention, you really aren’t. You keep on thinking about what else is out there. Your mind is wandering.

The writer is unable to form a connection and you end up clicking away. Hardly surprising, is it?

A tiny number of people are getting it right, though. They open their posts with a bang. They are spot on with their calls to action. Before you know it, you have read every single word and you wonder what happened to logging off for the day.

People like Jon Morrow, and Sonia Simone, and Darren himself. They are masters of engagement. They are talking directly to you. Only you.

How on earth do they do it? How do they make you stay put even though your pots are boiling over and your kids are screaming for dinner? Turns out they have quite a few tricks up their sleeves.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Write like you talk—only better

You have probably heard this advice before, but we will take it up a notch here. Dig a little deeper. What does exactly it mean to write like you talk?

1. The most important word in blogging is “you”

Address you audience. Imagine you are sitting across the table from a really close friend, and write your post for them. You are allowed ask rhetorical questions, but cut down on ums and ahs. It makes for poor talking and appalling writing.

2. Mirror their responses

Say things like, “so you feel like nobody’s paying attention …” or “I know crafting effective calls to action can be really hard.”

What have your readers been telling you? Use some of their language to reflect that you are paying attention.

3. Use contractions

Some people hardly ever use any. They stay proper, but that’s not how you talk to a friend. Use don’t, isn’t, it’s. Make it less stilted. Make it flow better and sound like human speech.

4. Be bold with exclamatory phrases

By this, I mean things like “Oh no!” and “Holy cow!”

Psst! Watch some reality TV or reporting shows. See how they keep you glued to the set with exclamations.

5. Ignore your high school English teacher—within reason

Your old English teacher was right when she told you to choose the right word, make it vivid and interesting and add adjectives to your prose.

This is not something you should mess with. You can, however, get away with breaking some rules of grammar. You just need to know which.

5. Use fragments

Like this one. Believe it or not, it is fine to use them even if you are not actually saying them out loud.

6. Start your sentences with a conjunction

But that is not grammatically correct, you say. Well, this is one of those rules.

7. Stay away from adverbs

On most occasions that add nothing to your writing. Most of them are redundant like scream loudly, sigh sadly. Use sparingly.

8. Don’t be afraid to use a bit of slang, but don’t go overboard

Dig?

9. Use exclamation points when necessary

Cut back on the usage though. Dramatically.

10. Write at an eighth-grade reading level

Reader’s Digest does it. So can you. Keep it simple.

11. Avoid being formal

Instead of saying however, moreover, or furthermore, say but, so, or then. We are aiming for conversational here. Get a dialogue going.

12. Avoid jargon

Corporate lingo, marketing speak, gobbledygook. Call it what you want, if it is unintelligible, it has no business being there.

13. Use short words

Leave the thesaurus alone. Stephen King suggests picking the first word that comes to mind (in most cases). That’s gold.

14. Don’t be wordy

Notice how eyes begin to glaze over when it happens in face-to-face conversations?

Same is the case in the virtual world. Keep it tight; nobody likes people who ramble.

15. Don’t use the passive voice

Consider these options:

  • A decision was made vs. I decided.
  • Your email has been received vs. we have received your email.
  • Your response is appreciated vs. we appreciate your response.

Which sounds better? You decide (or, it has to be decided by you)!

16. Avoid monologue (keep paragraphs short)

You are not really having a conversation, we get it, but does it have to come across like a lecture? Keep your paragraphs short. Talk to readers, not at them. Don’t preach.

17. Forget about being politically correct

“He or she” is fine. Nobody will say anything, I promise.

18. Show off your personality

Pretend you are writing an email to a close friend. What’s different about this writing? It’s more authentic, more genuine, more you.

19. Don’t use words that you won’t use while talking

Is it something you’d say to somebody’s face? If not, it might be a good idea to skip it.

20. Use phrases that only you would use

Put your unique stamp on all your writing.

21. Ask hard-to-answer questions

Exercise tough love. Make their brains hurt!

22.  Watch your tone

Snarky, inspirational, flippant, self-deprecating, tough … how do you want to come across? Carry it throughout your piece. Be consistent.

23. Take a stand

Say what you mean. What’s the point otherwise?

You are writing for the most important person there is—your reader. Do you want to be clever or engaging? The choice is yours.

Marya Jan is a blogging coach for solopreneurs, small business owners and start-ups. Find more of her stuff at Writing Happiness. Don’t forget to grab her free ebook ‘9 NEW RULES OF BLOGGING – How to Grow Your Business with Little traffic, No connections & Limited hours’.

Blogging on the Bleeding Edge: Create Content that Gets Liked, Shared, and Talked About

This guest post is by Glen Andrews of Glen-Andrews.com.

There are two types of content…

Regurgitated content. This is content, or information, that’s been shared throughout a niche for years. It doesn’t really excite anyone anymore. It’s considered useful, but it’s “old hat.”

As an example, in the blogging niche (my niche) regurgitated content would be writing an article about hashtags, setting up a Facebook page, or discussing the importance of creating videos.

These are all worthwhile strategies to write about, especially if your blog is about social media. We all need to paint the full picture for those entering social media (our niche) for the first time. So discussing old strategies is always a smart thing to do.

However, regurgitated content won’t thrust you to the forefront of your market. Which brings me to our second type of content.

What’s happening now content. This is “bleeding edge” content that’s new to your market.

When Google rolled out its new algorithm (Panda/Penguin) the people aware of these “insider” updates were seen as the experts. Then, these so-called “insiders” created some of the first articles, posts, and videos about Google’s new algorithms.

These insiders are also the ones who receive masses of likes, shares, and tweets from their fan base. Which in turn, helps them build an even bigger fan base.

When you share breaking news, people want to be on your newsletter list, they want to read your blog, and they want to follow you on social media sites.

Here’s the good news. Anyone can become an insider, as I’m about to explain.

But first, here are four things that occur when we produce “what’s happening now” content.

The benefits of bleeding-edge content

  1. We have the ability to help and inspire others.
  2. We’re viewed as experts on the “cutting edge” of our niche.
  3. Our content gets shared, liked, and talked about more often.
  4. We get an opportunity to earn an exceptional income online.

You might be saying, “Don’t most blogs get these benefits?”

No! Most blogs have good content, but not “what’s happening now” content, blogged from the bleeding edge.

Becoming an insider

Here’s how you can become an insider in your niche, and publish the best bleeding-edge content.

Finding other insiders

First, find out who the top three leaders are in your niche and follow their every move. Get their newsletters and RSS feeds sent to your email, and follow them on Twitter. This will immediately tip you off when something new is about to unfold in your niche.

When you find some killer bleeding-edge content, create an article, post, or video, and discuss the affects this news may have on your niche. Then of course, you’ll share it with your base.

Finding policy makers

So you’re probably wondering—where do I find these niche leaders?

You want to locate the people who make the rules. For example, in my niche, Google, Facebook, and Twitter are just a few of the “policy makers” I follow. These are the people who make the policies that affect everyone online.

It helps to get your information straight from the decision makers themselves. However, I could also follow Searchengineland.com for SEO. I could follow SocialMediaExaminer.com for all things social media.

You want your finger on the pulse of what’s happening next, and the only way to do that is to know the decision-makers in your market.

Blogging on the bleeding edge

Have you identified the decision-makers in your market? Are you able to respond quickly when they report critical news? What are your strategies for creating great content that gets liked, shared and re-tweeted? Share your ideas in the comments.

Glen Andrews has created niche sites, ebooks, and info products that produce a steady reliable income. Glen is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs create and market a blog online that makes them money.

Get Creative About Your Content … Consistently

This guest post is by Pratik Dholakiya of E2M Solutions.

You’ve heard it a thousand times. “You need great, original content.” And it’s becoming increasingly obvious that “original” isn’t the same thing as “not plagiarized.”

There’s just one problem. Doing something truly original is hard.

How can you make original ideas happen? The answer comes from an unexpected source: psychological research.

Writer’s block is only half the battle

The solution to writer’s block is simple: keep writing. It doesn’t matter what. Just publish. Just ship.

This is where most bloggers give up. They get stuck on the belief that everything they publish needs to be gold. It won’t be. You need to make writing a habit. That’s all it takes to conquer writer’s block.

But it’s only half the battle.

If your content isn’t new and exciting to your visitors, most of them will leave. And since it’s very difficult for an individual blogger to come across a breaking news story before anybody else, most bloggers end up publishing well written and completely redundant material.

Creativity is the spice you need to keep your blog fresh.

Here’s where you can get it.

Are you afraid of creativity?

Consciously, no. But studies suggest that when we do have a fear of creative ideas, it’s subconscious, and we’re completely blind to the results.

One of these studies, led by researchers from Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of North Carolina, suggests that when we’re uncertain about the future, we reject creative ideas, even though we want them.

They discovered that if they paid participants by a random lottery, instead of a set fee, they would subconsciously associate creative words with negative words like, “hell,” and “vomit.”

In a second experiment, they found out that if the participants wrote an essay about how “there is only one way to solve a problem,” this also created a sense of uncertainty. Worse still, this caused them to rate ideas as less creative, rather than recognize their fear.

The implications are clear:

  • Take actions that make you feel more secure about your future.
  • Embrace the mindset that there is more than one solution to every problem.
  • Write down all of your ideas when you brainstorm, and be open minded. You might be rejecting creative ideas because they scare you, not because they are actually uncreative.

Are you being too closed … or too open?

A study led by Ella Miron-Spektor of Israel, along with researchers from Harvard and Carnegie, suggests that paradoxical thinking plays a part in creativity.

In one of their experiments, they asked participants to read an article about an experimental new toy, and then they read comments made by “judges” of the product. The judges said one of four things:

  • The toy was creative or cheap.
  • The toy was creative and cheap.
  • The toy was creative but too expensive, because cheap is the opposite of creative.
  • The toy was creative and cheap, and those are usually opposites.

Out of the four groups in the experiment, only one group stood out on a creativity test: the last one.

In other words, it wasn’t enough to be open to the idea that something could be creative and cheap at the same time. It also wasn’t enough to realize that creativity and low price were opposites. Creativity was only boosted by recognizing that two things could be somehow different and complimentary at the same time.

What does this mean for you?

  • Be open to ideas and concepts that don’t seem directly related to the subject of your blog.
  • But don’t be so open that you fall back on “everything is related,” without being able to see the differences at the same time.

Again, you have to be able to see how things can be different and complimentary at the same time, not just one or the other, in order to get a boost in creative thinking. The “idea mashups” that result from this are some of the best blog posts on the web.

I like to think of it like this:

  • If you’re too closed, you won’t see interesting connections that result in new ideas.
  • If you’re too open, no connection stands out as interesting or new, because “everything is already connected,” so who cares?

Are you in the right mindset?

There is a belief among many intellectuals that in order to be creative, you need to be a tortured soul. But a meta-analysis of studies on the subject revealed that out of 29 experiments, only nine suggested there was any truth to this, and those studies had a flawed design.

In one example demonstrating just the opposite, Alice Isen and others tested the impact of mood on people’s ability to solve a creative problem, called the candle problem. They asked one group of students to watch a funny video before solving the problem, and the other group to watch a math video. Only one in five of the people who watched the math video solved it, but an amazing three out of four solved it if they watched the funny video.

Was this because of laughter, or just a positive mood in general? In another experiment, they gave the participants a decorated bag of candy. The results were similar, but not as dramatic.

It turns out maybe you don’t have to be depressed and self-loathing in order to be creative after all.

Vincent Van Gogh may have cut his ear off, and history does seem to favor the tragic stories about creative people, but the psychology is clear. At least when it comes to everyday creativity, positivity is the answer.

Are you too focused?

This is a weird one, so bear with me. I want to be absolutely clear here. It takes focus and dedication to complete anything you start. If you don’t stay focused on your goals, you’re likely to wander aimlessly for a long time before you get anywhere near where you want to be.

But when it comes to creating the ideas in the first place? In that case, focus may actually be working against you.

In one experiment, participants were asked questions like this:

Two people are born on the same day of the month, on the same year, to the same mother and father, but they are not twins. How is this possible?

The experiment was led by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks, and it was based on people’s sleep schedules. Your sleep schedule determines which time of day you are most and least focused (which is not necessarily the same thing as being alert and sleepy).

People who were brought in during their least focused time of day actually did best on these types of creative solving problems.

(If you couldn’t think of it, the answer is that they’re triplets.)

And this isn’t the only experiment to suggest this. Another experiment demonstrated that people who have frontal lobe damage do better on these kinds of problems, and still another suggested that alcohol had the same effect.

Now, I’m not advocating drinking on the job or taking a hammer to your forehead, but we can’t ignore the implications. So here are a few ideas to take advantage of this knowledge:

  • The best time to brainstorm is during those “off” times of day when you can’t seem to focus on anything and everything is distracting.
  • If you’re struggling with brainstorming, this is probably the best time of day to work on something that requires focus or something more routine, such as reading and research.
  • Consider brainstorming during times when you are sleepy.

As a simple example:

  • When you can’t read: brainstorm.
  • When you can’t brainstorm: read.
  • When you have the right combination of knowledge and original ideas: write.

Putting it all together

Here is a sample creativity “plan” that you can borrow from and adjust as you see fit, based on what we’ve learned.

  • When you brainstorm, don’t reject any ideas that come to mind. Write them down. You can sift through them later.
  • Define the problems you are trying to solve with each blog post, and write at least two different solutions to those problems.
  • For each article, pick a “parent” subject, and write down several other subjects, almost at random. Pick the other subjects you find most interesting, and write down how each is similar to and different from your parent subject.
  • Research a few different things at the same time, and write a list of reasons why they are the same and why they are different.
  • Get yourself in a positive mindset, and make the creative process as fun as possible. Use humor and stick to the subjects that you will enjoy learning and writing about.
  • If you simply can’t brainstorm, you’re probably doing it at the wrong time of day. Try reading instead. It’s when you find yourself reading the same sentence over again five times that you should probably get back to brainstorming.

So there you have it: a plan for creating original material, based on solid science. You’ll find that when you have an unlimited number of ideas to work with, the whole writing process gets easier, and your quality levels will start to improve.

Have you tried using methods like these? What else has helped you come up with original content ideas? Tell us in the comments.

Pratik Dholakiya is a Lead SEO Strategist at E2M Solutions, a full service internet marketing company specializing in Organic SEO, PPC, Local Search, Social Media, Reputation Management, Content Marketing and more. He recently started an Interview platform TalkWithLeaders.com where he’ll be interviewing various industry leaders. You can contact him on twitter @DholakiyaPratik or by email.

How to Fill the Giant Guest Post Hole On Your Blog

This guest post is by Joel Zaslofsky of Value of Simple.

Is there a sign on your blog silently screaming, “Please don’t help me grow?”

It’s a shame that most of us put that sign up without even noticing.

From the newest bloggers to the most well-established ones, that’s what happens when you don’t have clear and public guest post submission guidelines.

Even if you don’t want guest posts right now, this is still crucial.

And it’s vital for publishing that first guest post on your blog or breathing some fresh air into a stagnant posting pattern.

There are surprising benefits to creating or updating your guidelines, not to mention huge perks in making them public. Here, I’ll share these hidden benefits with you and explain how even little blogging fish can become bigger, stronger swimmers.

A sad and frustrating story

I don’t need to remind you of the value in guest posting for others. But how many times have you wanted to guest post somewhere and given up because you had no idea:

  • what the submission process was (e.g. who to contact and how)
  • what topics they’re interested in
  • items to include in your pitch to increase your chance of a “yes”
  • when to expect a response and what will be in it
  • what the post specifications are
  • how they will promote your guest post if it’s published
  • whether they’re even taking guest posts right now?

It’s annoying when this happens, right? “Well, it’s their loss,” you think as you lament how much they’re missing out or resent the unnecessary barriers they put up.

Don’t make other people think this about you! Don’t scare away great guest posters and make people give up without you ever knowing.

My experience

When I first started guest posting, I was ripping out the little hair left on my very bald head. Why couldn’t someone take a few minutes to let me know how I should approach them, what to include in a submission, and if they even take guest posts?

You’ll never have to worry about this again by creating (or updating) your guest post submission guidelines.

Now, some people have accused me of going overboard in my own guest post submission guidelines.

Yeah, they’re long. But navigation is easy and I cover dang near any question someone could dream up. When I scare people off, it’s not because I didn’t set expectations or tell them how it could all go down.

Benefits of creating guidelines

As I fused my own guidelines from the best ones I could find—and with the help of the awesome resources for creating your own coming up at the end of this post—I became better at pitching guest posts.

How? Here are just a few ways:

  • Steve Kamb’s guidelines at Nerd Fitness say I should have credible examples and sources to back up my writing? I better promise my guest post will be more than just my opinion.
  • ProBlogger’s guidelines say it can take up to 10 days to review a submission? I better not annoy them with a quick follow up asking for a status.
  • Tyler Tervooren’s guidelines at Advanced Riskology say he does field reports instead of guest posts? I better prove how I’m a pillar in his community and explain the story I plan to tell.

I also became a better writer by seeing what was important to some of the best writers around. If writing a post in a certain style, voice, or format was essential to the top dogs, maybe it should be essential to me too.

As you explore other people’s guidelines, you better understand how certain topics are huge and why they’re  relevant to being a great blogger. Your knowledge about word counts, picture formats, writing a good by-line, and the appropriate use of links will skyrocket.

You also realize there are some mandatory parts of good guidelines—like how the submission process works and what topics you’ll consider—but much of this is personal preference. While there are many wrong ways to write your guidelines, there certainly isn’t “one true way” to do it.

So what about the benefits of publishing your guidelines?

Stellar perks of publishing guidelines

This is where the real magic begins. Polished guidelines have more perks than you can shake a stick at! I’m tempted to list them all, but here’s just a sampling.

1. Heighten legitimacy

If you went through all that trouble to write awesome guidelines, it must be because people are banging down your door to guest post. Right? *Wink wink, nudge nudge* And everyone wants to run with the cool and popular kids. Newer and smaller bloggers take note.

2. Reduce poor quality, poor-fit pitches

People know you mean business with your guidelines and therefore need to step their game up. You’ll still get an occasional poor pitch from someone who didn’t read the guidelines, but at least you’ve done your part.

3. Limit annoying back-and-forth

If a person gets the submission right the first time, you won’t have to exchange twenty emails setting expectations and getting what you need.

4. Avoid formatting hell

When you spell out how you want an accepted guest post formatted, you spend less time and generate less stress manually tweaking it.

5. Reject submissions using objective criteria

It’s much easier to say no to someone—and they’re less likely to be offended—when you rationally justify why their pitch isn’t a match for your blog. Just point them to the guidelines.

6. Get more breaks

Ultimately, getting more guest posts you want to publish means you can work on something else. Or perhaps do something we all need more of, like take a breather.

Amazing guideline resources

I promised some awesome guideline creation resources a moment ago and now I’m delivering. If you want to learn how to create the best dang guidelines in the business, you want to read all of these articles.

This isn’t where the story ends

After you publish your guidelines (which you’re going to do now, right?), don’t feel the need to justify them. Your blog is your platform. It’s your online home. And nobody comes into your house and tells you how to run it.

I’ll just add one more thing that Georgina pointed out to me in an email exchange.

Guest posts on your blog get shared, get noticed, and help you attract people to your community who might never have come otherwise. My first guest post hosted on the Value of Simple was humbly promoted by an author who just so happened to have a large community. And by following my guidelines, we knew his guest post was a perfect fit for my community and would have the greatest possible impact for both of us.

You could get amazing pitches for guest posts without guidelines, but the odds are stacked against you. Why cause needless pain and frustration when guaranteeing welcomed, qualified, and inspired submissions are just a guidelines page away?

Joel Zaslofsky is the architect of the free Personal User Guide and helps people like you Start Investing with $100. When he’s not enjoying nature or chasing his son around the house, he’s doing a Continuous Creation Challenge at Value of Simple to help you cultivate a simplified, organized, and money wise life.

Writing the Truth of Your Own Experience

This guest post is by Sean M. Madden of Mindful Living Guide.

The cornerstone of my teaching is to write the truth of our own experience.

They’re fine words, which roll off the tongue with ease. But I needn’t tell you how gut-wrenching it can be to put them into practice.

For when one shares the results of such writing with the world at large it is very likely to anger at least some folk—no matter how clear, how unassuming, and how well-intentioned is what you have to say. And of course, it can be daunting to commit one’s truths to paper.

But the good news is that there’s a flipside.

Write the truth, and others—perhaps only a relative few—will appreciate beyond words that you’ve dared to express what they’ve longed to say, but perhaps couldn’t quite articulate.

Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, advises his correspondent thus:

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?

I’ve many times asked myself this question over the course of my writing life, and have reconsidered it afresh whenever I revisit Rilke’s Letters, either on my own or with a group of students. My initial response tends to be, no, I mustn’t write—my life could be well-lived without the act of penning words onto a page. And yet I do write, often as if my life does indeed depend upon it.

Eleven years ago, I participated in a meditation retreat in which I had to relinquish any and all writing (and reading) materials for the course of a week and a half. No problem, I thought. Until several days into the retreat when I found I had something I had to express. So I liberated a blue permanent marker from the men’s toilet area and wrote my then nearly ten-year-old daughter a letter which spanned the full length and width of the fitted sheet I’d brought from home to sleep on. A letter she slept with for a very long time, until—ever so slowly, wash after wash—it finally faded from sight.

And how many times, since, have I resolved to give up writing in response to the egregious crimes of state we witness on a day-to-day basis, only to find myself in the most silent hour of my night writing an article for publication, a blog post, or page after page of handwritten diatribe?

Why, if time and again I tell myself I needn’t write, must I?

At times I write to release my soul from the burden of silence in the face of monstrous lies. Other times I write in response to witnessing the wonderment and beauty of this world. Either way, I write to express the truth of my own lived experience, and am infinitely happier for regularly doing so.

10 Steps to write the truth of your own experience

  1. Jump in headfirst. As with entering a cold sea or swimming pool, it’s much easier to plunge in, headfirst, than to wade slowly cursing the cold each step of the way. Once you’re in, you’re in, and you’ll acclimate yourself much more quickly. Ditto with writing.
  2. Courage grows in the doing. Fear and self-doubt, on the other hand, fester in the not-doing.
  3. Write with pen and paper. Make it a physical act, involving your whole body, your whole being, not just your mind. Thoughts are more likely to come in the doing than in the thinking up of things. Certainly, write on your computer as well, but get comfortable with putting pen to paper.
  4. Write first and foremost for yourself. While you might eventually like to share your work with others, write firstly for yourself without concern for your readers. Remember, too, that the acts of writing and sharing your work are wholly distinct. Share your work only when you’re ready.
  5. Trust wholeheartedly in the process. Simply write down whatever comes up. Trust in this process until the need to trust is replaced by an experiential knowing that the process works.
  6. Be patient and supremely gentle with yourself. Remember, too, that a thousand-mile journey begins with that very first step. Keep walking, and writing, and every once in a while look back to see how far you’ve traveled, and how much you’ve accomplished.
  7. Write with no expectations. Rather, nurture a sense of letting go of the notion of writing well. Good writing will come of its own accord, all the more so when you write regularly and truthfully about your own life experience.
  8. Begin a daily, or near-daily, writing practice. Commit to a three-month daily writing practice as a means to recognize, firsthand, the benefits of doing so, and, thereby, to develop it into a habit.
  9. Recognize that writing topics abound. They’re literally everywhere within you as well as in the world around you. Begin to notice the rich, inspiration-packed details of your day-to-day life.
  10. Write down your inner truths with great courage and honesty. You’ll thereby find your voice. This last step is a repeat from an earlier, closely related article I wrote for ProBlogger which you might find helpful to consider alongside this piece.

What strategies have you found to be helpful in writing the truth of your own experience? Please leave your comments below so that we can continue to learn from each other’s experience as well.

Sean M. Madden is a Creative Writing & Mindful Living Guide who is slow-traveling on a shoestring in Europe with his partner, Mufidah Kassalias. In addition to leading courses and workshops, Sean also works one-to-one with clients worldwide via Skype, email and telephone. He invites you to contact him via email or to follow him on Twitter (@SeanMMadden), Instagram (@SeanMMadden) or Facebook (Mindful Living Guide).

Why Twilight has Such a Massive Following—and How to Apply This Concept to Your Blog

This guest post is by Allison Boyer of NMXlive.com.

I’ve never actually met a fan of Twilight.

It’s true. I’ve met people who say they kinda-sorta-maybe like the books, but can’t stand the movie. I’ve met people who say they’re reading the series because they’re curious. I’ve met people who say they just watching the movies for a laugh. But I’ve never met, face-to-face, a hard-core, die-hard Twilight fan.

Yet they exist out there. I see message boards and fan sites brimming with excitement over the latest film or gossip about one of the actors, and when they show snippets of the premiers on the news, there are always lots of screaming fans. So why won’t anyone actually admit to me that they are a huge fan of Twilight?

The answer is exactly why I believe this series has such a massive following in the first place—and it’s an extremely important lesson for any blogger trying to grow a community.

The empty protagonist

The protagonist of the Twilight story is a teenage girl named Bella who is forced to move to a new town, where she finds that one of her classmates (and all of his siblings) are actually vampires and that her best friend is a werewolf. Two of the vampires fall in love with her, fight over her, and constantly save her from other supernatural beings.

Bella, as a character, is nothing special. And that’s the point.

At some point, we’ve all daydreamed about a hunky man or beautiful woman falling so deeply in love with us that they’re willing to fight off other suitors and even risk their lives on our behalf. We all know what it feels like to deal with unfairness in life, like having to move to a new town. We all know what it feels like to be unsure of our feelings, like Bella is with both potential partners at some point or another. And the supernatural element is just fun. We all have the child inside, who remembers how much fun it is to play pretend.

Bella is an empty shell, so the reader (or viewer) can image being in Bella’s shoes.

That’s why it’s so hard for people to admit liking this series, even if they have every special edition DVD at home. It’s embarrassing to admit that you just want to be like Bella, living in this fantasy world with two hotties fighting over who gets to save you this time.

(Of course, few people actually want that for real, but it’s a fun little escape from life for a few hours.)

This isn’t the only time an empty protagonist, or an “everyman” type of character, has shown up in a book or film. Ishmael in Moby Dick, Winston Smith in 1984, and Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy all have these qualities. It’s a common technique used to help you relate to a specific character.

Why bloggers should care

All of us would love to have a massive following like Twilight, right? So how can we take the concept of an everyman character and bring it to a blog about food or social media or fashion (or whatever your niche may be)?

The answer isn’t an easy one, but the solution is to suck your audience into a story they can relate to, using that to support the thesis of your blog post.

Take this blog post for example. I’m writing about how to build your community, but I started by talking about something everyone knows—Twilight. My first line, about not knowing anyone who actually admits to liking the series, was designed to make you think, “Huh. I don’t either!” or even “Wait, I know someone!”

Either way, you’re internally having a conversation with me and this blog post now, rather than just passively reading a list of tips.

Many bloggers do this extremely well. Check out Elizabeth Potts Weinstein. Read a few posts from Erika Napoletano. Browse the archives of Man Vs. Debt for posts from Adam, Courtney, and Joan.

On all of these blogs, with almost every post, you learn something, but only after they suck you into the story, making your nod your head and completely relate to whatever they’re talking about. Even if you haven’t been in their specific situations, you understand what it feels like.

You can put yourself in their shoes.

And that is the key to make people come back again and again. It’s slow at first. People know they like a post you’ve written, but they aren’t quite sure why. So they read some more and then some more, and soon they are subscribed to your RSS feed and signed up to your mailing list and sharing every post you write with their social media followers.

This is obviously not the only way to build a community on your blog, but if you’re struggling to find your place, think about using this technique on your blog. How can you pull readers into your post by using an everyman story? How can you keep your fans coming back for more by helping them relate to you? How can you entertain and inspire instead of just educate?

For more tips on building a community, check out the “Three Very Unique Ways To Build A Massive Community” panel at New Media Expo (NMX – formerly BlogWorld) in January. It’s a can’t-miss session if you’re looking for new ways to find your fans and keep them coming back for more.