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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.

Become a Guest-post Ninja in 5 Steps

This guest post is by Timo Kiander ofProductive Superdad.

There you are with a big smile, after slapping together another 400-word post. It took you 30 minutes to write, and now you are ready to submit it to some random blog.

Although you didn’t really put your mind to the post, it got published anyway. Quite soon after this you start to wonder why you aren’t getting any great results in return: no visits, no subscribers, no nothing.

You make the conclusion that guest posting is just a waste of time. You also decide to move to other, more compelling traffic methods that have the potential to drive massive amounts of visitors to your site.

In fact, a certain marketer just published a course that shows you how to get floods of traffic to your blog—by spending just ten minutes per day with his technique.

You figure that’s a much better use of your time than the overhyped guest posting thing, which isn’t working for you anyway.

I’m sorry to hear that you feel this way about guest posting. However, if you let me, I can at least try to change your mind.

Guest posting is more than a simple list post

Too many times people think that a great-performing article is just a simple list post that, after being submitted to a blog, will bring a lot of traffic and subscribers. Then they become frustrated when they fail to get the results they wished for.

This frustration is caused by a lack of persistence. Guest posting is a long-term strategy that requires commitment—not just doing a random post here or there.

You’ll also need the focus properly when you’re doing the actual writing. Your goal should always be to produce as valuable and meaningful stuff for your readers as possible.

Unfortunately, if you are not focused enough, you end up offering some superficial advice that has been said elsewhere many times over.

The more time you spend on guest posting, the more certain you can be that you’ll get the big rock rolling—and you’ll get great rewards in return.

On the other hand, if you expect the results fast or you are not willing to put enough hours in, then you should definitely start figuring out some other promotional strategy that suits your better.

Mindset and success are connected

The lack of success is traceable—to your mind. In other words, you might lack the proper mindset to succeed at guest posting.

To succeed, you’ll need to be consistent and persistent with your efforts. You also have to be ready to test and tweak different things related to guest posting: headlines, landing pages, and the blogs you submit your posts to.

Unfortunately, guest posting is not for the person who wants to reach the big figures in this very moment: the traffic, the subscribers now, and the sales. Sure, you’ll get those, but only with enough commitment and intense work.

If you don’t own the right mindset, guest posting is just another way to get some random traffic to your site. A lack of focus is going to give you a lack of results.

Becoming a guest-post ninja

Do you want to become a guest-post ninja? Well, I have good news for you—it’s totally doable!

Instead of jumping around like a real ninja warrior, I want you to develop a proper guest posting mindset. You can do this using the steps I’m about to tell you.

First, don’t hold back on anything!

I remember the time (when I started writing guest posts) when I was always thinking, “Is this post too good to be given away, or should I publish it on my own blog?”

If you are feeling like this, then stop. Don’t hesitate to give your best stuff for other blogs.

My blog doesn’t have tens of thousands of readers (at least, not yet!), so it’s useless for me to publish all my best content over there.

Instead, I try to get my content published on those blogs which already have those tens of thousands of readers and who will (at least partly) come back to my blog for more.

Second, writing is just one part of guest-posting.

Guest posting is also about interacting with the readers of the guest blog’s audience. If you think that your job is done after getting your post published, you are wrong.

The worst thing to do is to stay quiet during the conversation. This just proves to the blog’s author that your posts are not worth publishing in the future.

Third, the biggest fear in guest posting is about rejection.

I can totally understand this—especially if you are just starting out. However, the more posts your write, the less you’ll experience this feeling.

You can always offer the rejected post to another blog and, unless it’s badly written, it’ll be published elsewhere.

Fourth, systematize your work.

When you start writing posts on a regular basis, a good system will help you a lot. This means that you have certain guidelines to follow whenever your write a guest post, and you’ll be able to produce great posts easier and faster.

Finally, plan ahead.

Never start writing your posts without outlining or planning them in advance. This becomes especially important if you are building your blog while you have a day job and a family.

Every minute counts! The more effective you are, the more you get done with your available time, and the better the results you are going to get.

Put that black mask on, and become a guest-post ninja!

Now that you understand the guest posting mindset, and how to become a guest-post ninja, it’s time to look at the action steps that you can take next.

1. Give away your best stuff

Don’t save the “good stuff” for your own blog—give it away, especially if you are just starting out. Your blog gets more exposure that way, and so do you.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be writing awesome stuff on your own blog—of course you should! But you should publish your great content where the people are, rather than posting it only to your blog.

2. Reply to comments

There are really two parts to this piece of advice.

First, I batch process all post comments at once, on a daily basis. This way all the comments get a reply. This is also what the author of the blog you’ve been a guest on expects.

As soon as I know that the post is live, I’ll let the author know that my comment policy is to reply to all the comments once a day. I also let the blogger know if I’m travelling and I can’t reply to comments right away. This way the blogger is informed and knows that eventually the comments are going to be replied to.

3. Kill your fear of rejection

To feed your fear of rejection, write your first guest post and try to get it published on a big blog.

A much better way to kill that fear is to get your stuff published on smaller blogs first, and then, once you’re more confident, to go after the big fishes.

This is exactly what my strategy was in the beginning, and the fear of rejection is nowadays pretty much non-existent.

You should use this strategy too: start on the lowest steps of the ladder and then proceed upwards, one step at a time.

4. Create your system

You can create your ownguest-post system from scratch, or borrow a system from someone else.

I have a certain way of writing posts and this system works for me. On the other hand, you’ll definitely want to put your own tweaks to existing systems, so that they suit you better. It’s the best way to create quality guest posts that get results on a consistent basis.

5. Plan and execute

Finally, there is the planning part, which shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, the planning is critical part of my system, but I wanted to bring it up as a separate step.

Every Sunday, I outline my posts for the coming week. This ensures that I’m ready to start writing as soon as I wake up.

Mornings are technically the only part of the day when my home is quiet enough for writing. Besides, writing stuff after getting back home from work is not practical for me as I want to spend time with my family or with my hobbies.

Like me, you’ll have to find the optimum time for you to write. Then, plan and write around that schedule.

Are you a guest-post ninja?

Guest posting works, but you have to concentrate on it properly if you want to get good results. To get that concentration, build a strategy and a system for your guest posting efforts. Take these steps as a starting point or implement your own system if you want.

Have you done any guest posting? What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?

Timo Kiander, a.k.a. Productive Superdad, teaches WAHD superdad productivity for work at home dads. If you want to improve your blogging productivity, grab his free e-book, 61 Ways for Supercharging Blogging Productivity.

The Well-rounded Blogger: How to Become the Best at Your Craft

This guest post is by Brandon Yawa of Brandonyawa.com.

It goes without saying that every writer who has excelled has his or her niche.

A “niche” gives writers a focal point, a demographic, a particular place in the world where his or her voice resonates. But niches without proper attention kill great writers.

The problem with specifications

You are walking down a busy street and fall. Unfortunately, you break your leg and the ambulance rushes you to the nearest Orthopedist. You meet Dr. Niche in his blue scrubs with his head held slightly higher than everyone else’s, suggesting overwhelming confidence in the subject at hand.

He looks at your leg, and in what seems like a millisecond, your leg is in place and the cast is fully set. Baffled by the expertise of Dr. Niche, you ask, “Is there anything I can do nutritionally to speed up the healing process?” Dr. Niche’s skyscraper deposition lowers as he almost incoherently mumbles, “That’s outside of my niche . . .”

Dr. Niche is absurd.

Great writers do not become so specific that they lose sight of the body in writing. Whether your niche is creative writing, blogging, non-fiction, or poetry, it is equally important you understand the mechanics of all the above. Great writers use the knowledge of writing to excel in their niche. Okay writers use the knowledge of their niche to excel in their niche.

How to be well-rounded

  1. If your specialty is blogging, expose yourself to other areas—poetry, literature, creative writing—and familiarize yourself with the mechanics of all of them. You’re not exiting your specialty; instead, you are arming yourself with more tools to excel in your niche.
  2. Don’t limit yourself to only writing about your niche. Live a little outside of your comfort zone. If you’re a poet, write what you know about blogging. If you’re a blogger, write a poem. Don’t just familiarize yourself with the mechanics; actually contribute your voice in other realms.
  3. Look at your voice like you would Dr. Niche. Dr. Niche is a genius if the world and the human body were limited to just bones, but it’s not. If you want to be a real world genius, don’t limit your voice to one particular thing.
  4. Separate the content your readers want from what you have to do as a professional to evolve. Continue to produce the content your readers look forward to, but practice new ways of delivering your content in privacy.
  5. Start today, not tomorrow. Don’t get into the habit of putting off what will make your voice special today. It’s a really bad habit that needs an entirely different blog.

The blogging world has shown that one person’s success can be countless people’s success when we share our experiences. Go out, try these new methods, then comeback here and share your insights. We look forward to hearing from you in the comments.

Brandon Yawa is a retired pro athlete turned blogger. His motivational blogs combine lessons learned from surpassing the limits in his life, with a deep-seated passion to help people transcend the limits in their lives.

Reusing Freelance Writing Online: the Pros and Pitfalls

This guest post is by Emma Merkas of $30 Date Night.

It was my blog that landed me my weekly newspaper column.

I’m a huge advocate of self-publishing, If you know you’re talented at something, and if you have an opinion you want to express, a song you want to sing, or a specific skill you want to teach, go right ahead and do it.

The Internet has more than levelled the publishing playing field—judging by the state of traditional media outlets right now, it’s all but demolished it.

I’d been thanklessly blogging for about 18 months—five posts a week, very little to show for it in the way of traffic, and regular comments … all was going steadily, but not gangbusters—when I received a call from the editor of mX newspaper here in Melbourne.

She’d been reading my blogs and since her relationship and dating columnist had left for another publication, she wondered if I could do for the paper what I’d been doing online.

Yes, I could! Of course I could. I remember jumping around the loungeroom like a complete idiot while trying to keep my voice steady on the phone. My husband wondered what the heck was going on.

Readership of 700,000 across the Eastern seaboard of Australia. My photo and byline printed alongside it every week. My website plugged at the bottom. And an opportunity for a legit writing job…

Suddenly, I was a real writer. A proper, paid, professional writer.

But the column also gives me great new content for my blog.

I have my newspaper deadline every week. Even on my off days, even through my uninspired weeks, and even when I just can’t be bothered writing (every blogger battles it), it gets done. Because it has to.

Which is amazing, because then I get to post it to my blog, giving me steady and quality content for my site and ensuring I’m not burnt out by constantly writing the same stuff over and over again. If I had to rewrite every article on the same topic just so I could publish something, I doubt I’d last very long.

So here are some key points on reusing your freelance content for your own website, based on my experience.

1. Remember: your copyright is your livelihood

If it’s at all possible, retain the copyright on the works you produce for paying publications.

This should generally be standard if you are freelancing for a publication, rather than being employed as staff by the company, in which case they may have legal rights to the content.

The only way you can transfer your copyright is by signing a document. So be careful of what you’re signing!

If you don’t understand the agreement, wave it under the nose of a friend with some legal background (lawyers are a dime a dozen, right?).

2. Understand exclusive and non-exclusive rights

While I do own the copyright to my content, the paper has exclusive rights to my work for a period of time, meaning that I can’t resell or licence the content to any other third party in that time.

However, I am entitled to use my own work on my own website. If you’re not sure about this, clear it with your editor first, or do it as a courtesy anyway.

Always, always credit the publication when you publish on your own site. This creates goodwill and they’ll welcome the cross-promotion.

In my case, after the paper’s exclusivity period runs out, it still owns perpetual rights to my work that the editors can use as they see fit in their standard publications. As my agreement includes a clause that my work should always run with a byline, I’m not too fussed by this arrangement. The more promotion and publicity, the better for me and my website.

3. Give them first jump

Of course, the publication you’re writing for always has the right to publish the works first. In my case, I leave it at least a few days before I go live with my articles on my blog.

As mX newspaper is one of the rare beasts that doesn’t have an online portion, my columns are gone and forgotten—with no digital footprint—along with yesterday’s news. My blog ensures they live on.

Chances are, if a publication has taken you on to contribute work, they’re impressed already with your blog, your work, and your brand. Use that to your advantage when negotiating your contract and get as much access to reuse your own works as possible.

If you want to learn more about your rights as a content creator, the US Copyright Office or the Australian Copyright Council is a great resource for FAQs and legal advice.

Are you a freelance writer? Do you reuse your articles on your own blog? Share your negotiating tips and advice with us in the comments.

Emma Merkas is the author of the weekly ‘How Was It For You?’ relationships and dating column in Australian newspaper, mX. She is also the co-creator of the $30 Date Night date ideas website and blog. Find her on Twitter @30dollardate.

Advice from Famous Authors a Blog Writer Could Use Today

This guest post is by Colin Olson of Fresh Essays.

Every high-school superstar longs to follow in his sport hero’s footsteps. Small business owners idolize those on the Fortune 500 list. Likewise, blog writers can hope for the greatness of past literary giants.

While many of the world’s most famous authors are long gone, their words of wisdom still resonate today. Listen to the advice these famous authors have left for blog writers.

“What I try to do is write… And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’ ”—Maya Angelou

When writing an article, just let the thoughts flow. Constantly stopping and starting will break your train of thought. Don’t stop to correct typos, grammar errors or punctuation mistakes. All the editing can be done later. Don’t pause while writing to go looking for facts and statistics. Do all the fact-checking at once.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”—Elmore Leonard

One of the most unique features of a blog is the laid-back, conversational tone that can be implemented. Blogging is a chance for customers to see the person behind the brand.

Don’t be stuffy, pompous, or too formal. Engage readers in a conversation.

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”—Isaac Asimov

A great way to earn loyal readers is to provide content no one else is willing to discuss. 

Sit down and make a list of all the controversial topics, hard-to-answer questions, and pressing issues that are related to your industry.  Then, write content to address each item on the list. 

Be the first one to talk about the touchy subjects, and readers will come to trust and appreciate what you have to offer.

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”—Elmore Leonard

Blog readers tend to be skimmers. They like grabbing bits and pieces of information. So make that process easier for them.

Use headings, bullets and lists.  Keep paragraphs to a few sentences; big chunks of text can be intimidating.

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”—Edgar Allen Poe

When writing blog posts, be concise.  Choose one topic and stick to it.  Wander too far off on a tangent and readers will be lost.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”—Ernest Hemingway

Write about topics that are interesting. If you wouldn’t want to read it, no one else will either. And make sure blog posts have genuinely helpful information. Readers who are subjected to constant product pitches won’t stick around for long.

Write about topics people are passionate about—topics that they hold dear to their hearts.

“Quantity produces quality.  If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”—Ray Bradbury

Nothing says, “I don’t care,” like a dormant blog. At the very least, bloggers need to post once a week. Readers who always find the same old posts won’t bother to come back again.

Also, try to be consistent about when your posts appear. Use the site’s analytics to determine when readers stop by. Then, post on that day(s). If posts appear sporadically, readers won’t know what to expect.

Don’t be afraid to tell readers when a post is coming, too.  Make a simple announcement on your social networks.

“Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”—George Orwell

Blog writing is different from just about any other type of writing for one very simple reason—it is global. Loyal readers can come from any corner of the world, and for many, English is a second language.

Make blogs post simple to read. Avoid clichés—not everyone will understand them. Even posts that are translated into a native tongue will benefit from clear, concise, accurate language.

Check out these two great resources to learn more about passive and active voice and commonly misused English words.

“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia”.—Kurt Vonnegut

Have a target audience, and write for that audience. 

For a business blogger, the target audience is not the bigwigs with corner offices who sign the paychecks. Writing to please them is a big no-no. And a target audience of “women,” isn’t specific enough.

Narrow down the target audience until it seems there could only be one possible person in the world who fits that description.

“Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible….Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why…”—Kurt Vonnegut

Get to the point quickly. Readers shouldn’t have to wade through half the article before coming to the main point. Tell the readers what they’ll get from the article within the first few sentences.

“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

After writing a post, go back and proofread it. Not only do spelling errors and grammar mistakes need to be caught, punctuation blunders should be noted too.

Overuse of comas can be distracting. Long, ugly sentences that would benefit from semicolons are annoying too. Consider consulting the AP Stylebook. At the very least, note AP style calls for only one space after a period or colon. Numbers ten and under should be spelled out (with the exception of age: a 5-year-old boy).

“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!  You’ll absorb it. Then, write.”—William Faulkner

Reading the content of other industry leaders can provide useful information. First, insight will be gained as to what the competitors are up to. Second, inspiration can be found on other sites. Lastly, valuable lessons can be learned about what not to do!

There is no better way to end this article than by sharing G.K. Chesterton’s words: “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.”

This post was written by Colin Olson. He is a content writer and editor at Fresh Essays – an online writing services provider. He likes to write essays on history and education related topics.

How to Write a Must-read Product Review

This guest post is by Karol K.

Reviews are one of the more common types of content on the internet. I’m sure you’ve looked for a review of a given product yourself once or twice. However, being on the receiving end of a review, so to speak, is a completely different ball game than actually writing one.

First of all, some people mistake reviews for sales messages. Some indications that you’re dealing with a disguised sales message, rather than a review, are: too big a focus on glorifying the product, the presence of numerous affiliate links, and a lack of actual information about the usage of the product or service being reviewed (only promotional speech).

So how can you be the good guy or girl and actually craft a proper review? This post presents the essential techniques you should use, but first…

What’s the purpose of a review?

A good review is not intended just to make some affiliate sales … at least, it shouldn’t be.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against affiliate sales, it’s just that if making money is your only goal, this makes it impossible to present an unbiased opinion of the product or service. You still can include an affiliate link at the end of your review, but treat it as an extra opportunity, not the goal in itself.

So what’s a better purpose than affiliate sales for a review? To answer that question, take a look at why people read reviews. If you decide to cater to that need exactly, you will create a truly valuable review.

In my opinion, the most common reasons why people look for product reviews are:

  • to learn the pros and cons of a given product
  • to find out if the product is meant for them
  • to find out if the product is of high quality and easy to use
  • to find out about alternative solutions
  • to find out about other users’ experiences with the product
  • to ultimately learn if the product is worth buying.

With those needs in mind, let’s look at what you can do to craft a truly valuable review.

Buy or ask for the product

This is the first rule to writing a review! Sometimes I’m really amazed at how many people continue writing reviews without even owning the product they’re reviewing.

I mean, it’s doable if you just want to make a few affiliate sales, but if your goal is to provide value, then it’s absolutely crucial for you to have the product in your hands (or on your computer).

Now, there are a range of ways you can get the product. The best way is to simply ask the product owner to give you a copy for free (just mention that you’re writing a review).

If this doesn’t work, you can sign up as an affiliate and buy the product through your affiliate link. This will allow you to get up to 90% off the retail price, depending on the affiliate commission you’ll earn. Be aware, though, that some affiliate programs don’t allow you to buy through your own link—check the terms and conditions of the arrangement before you do this.

Consider becoming an affiliate

As I said briefly a couple of paragraphs above, I’m not against affiliates. As a matter of fact, I’m an affiliate for plenty of products.

To put it simply, if there is an affiliate program available for the product you’re reviewing, by all means do sign up. Just don’t make affiliate sales your main goal when writing the review.

Tackle the problem of honesty

Why am I calling it a problem? The problem is that not every product is a quality one.

Every once in a while, you’ll stumble upon a product that is simply garbage. And the problem here is that people (including you, I hope) are naturally nice. So we don’t want to hurt anyone by publishing negative reviews of their products.

And this is where the problem of honesty arises. A natural approach here is to simply omit some negative experiences from your review—to not say anything about them. I really don’t advise you to do this.

Always try to fight the natural resistance and mention every negative aspect you’ve stumbled upon. This will strengthen your brand and also ensure your readers know that you’re an honest source of information.

Craft the core content

Setting all the issues with purpose and honesty aside, now let’s focus on the core contents of your review.

Make sure you provide information on:

  • Features: Cover information on what the product does.
  • Target group: Include information on who the average user of the product is, and why they would want to use it.
  • The main benefit: There are always some benefits a given product has to offer, and listing them is usually the biggest value a review brings. Just to define the idea of a benefit briefly: it’s what the features of the product mean to the users, and how those features improve their lives.
  • Practical details: Cover things like the price, where to get the product (you can include your affiliate link here), what the guarantee is, how long customers have to wait for the delivery, and so on.

List the alternatives

This is optional. You can do this, but it’s not a mandatory element of a good review. Besides, sometimes there simply aren’t many alternatives to a really specific product.

Even if there are, there’s often no point in listing them. For example, when you’re reviewing a novel, even if there are other novels in the same area, it’s not likely to provide much value if you list them as alternatives.

Cove the pros and cons

The pros and cons section is a feature of every good review. Listing the pros is usually easy, as the product creators always try to make them clearly visible, but cons are a completely different story.

The first thing you need to realize is that there are always some cons, no matter how good the product seems at first. Your job as the reviewer is to bring them to the surface.

One more tip. Please don’t list cons that aren’t really cons. This is one of the tricks used by affiliate reviewers. For instance, when dealing with digital products, affiliates tend to mention the fact that the package takes a long time to download as a downside. It isn’t.

Cons are only significant if they somehow make the product less usable in some way. Focus on those.

Other people’s opinions

If you take a look at Amazon, you’ll find loads of customer reviews for every product. They’re not there just for the sake of it. People are simply very interested in other people’s opinions.

If you have access to reliable customer reviews or opinions that you can legally use, by all means include them in your review. Try to find both positive and negative ones.

Share your final opinion

Finally, share your personal opinion about the product. Mention whether the product is worth buying or not, and what your overall experience of it was.

Don’t be afraid of speaking your mind freely here. If you love the product, say that you do. If you hate it, people should know about this, too.

Also, include your affiliate link if you want to recommend the product to your readers. You don’t have to make it look overly promotional—a big Buy Here button might be too much. Simply hooking up your affiliate URL to the product name is usually enough.

That’s it for my advice on writing a proper product review, but feel free to share your own thoughts and ideas. Do you write a lot of reviews? Have you experienced any difficulties getting products? I’d love to hear your tips, too.

Karol K. is a freelance blogger and writer. Currently, he’s all about providing blogging advice to real estate business owners, and getting the word out about las colinas real estate.