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5 Blogging Lessons from NaBloPoMo

This guest post is by Karen Andrews of Miscellaneous Mum.

As problogger.net reported earlier this year, November is traditionally National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). This year I decided to set myself a personal challenge by giving them a try. Yes, together. In the spirit of imparting some tales of my intrepid adventures, I thought I’d share with you some important (and surprising) things I learned along the way.

1. Don’t be afraid to cut away the safety net

Is your blogging routine as old and worn as your favorite pair of slippers? Do you post at the same time on the same day, week in and out?

I see the comfort this can provide, and usually prescribe to the method, but on the other hand might this negate a thing blogging is often known for—the spirit of experimentalism? What if an alternate time, or topic, or way of publicizing your content happened to work even better? Isn’t it worth trialling?

2. Application cultivates discipline

It’s an old adage that the more a muscle is exercised, the better it performs and is strengthened, and I think this applies to writing. I found that by making the commitment, I found the time I needed to perform my tasks—in batches, I will add, as I have a child at home—and I sat down to work guilt-free and purposeful. This more positive mindset really helped.

3. Creativity rises in the ranks of precedence

It would take a remarkable talent to post thirty straight days (or more) of absolute winning content: talent, planning, assistance, and even a little luck might be closer to the mark. Even the most serious and best of us have silly off-the-cuff days, and I, personally, find them refreshing to both read and write.

It gives you the chance to share a part of yourself that a different kind of reader will identify with and appreciate. If your blog is more business or niche orientated this might be trickier, but I can cite some instances here on problogger.net where Darren has done something similar with great results—like an April Fools joke post which stated that ProBlogger had been acquired by Google, or a special guest post by his son.

So I’m issuing a challenge: post your own photographs instead of sourcing them from creative commons, write some flash fiction. Do you draw? Show us!

4. Determining your blogging future might just be made that much clearer

Once the month is over, stand back and take a breather. You’ve earned one. But what’s next? If you’re like me, worrying about traffic and subscribers takes a backseat when you’re in the middle of the task of laying down words until you emerge from the fog. Lucky there’s a wealth of information waiting to be looked over via Feedburner or Statcounter or Google Analytics (if you choose to do so).

Sometimes you’ll be able to tell what worked “better” by commenter count or good old gut instinct. The question now is: which way will you go? Will you apply your new tactics or chalk them up to mere play? It’s never an easy question to answer, but think about it this way: you’re better situated to do so now than you were a month ago.

5. This above all: life happens. Make peace with the fact

Did I finish NaNoWriMo? No, I barely cracked the 3,500 word mark. What happened? Illness, end-of-year school concerts, events, errands. You know the usual excuses. Still, those 3,500 are better than nothing—which might have happened if I hadn’t signed up at all. Besides, I still met the NaBloPoMo goal.

I believe above all else that the best thing you can offer your blogging is the best you. This might mean taking a rest or postponing such challenges if they become too untenable. The best thing of all is, you’ve got the next thirty days, you can begin again. Go solo if you want, you’ve already got the practice in. Maybe recruit some blogging buddies, and make it a community project. You can do it.

Karen Andrews is an author, publisher at Miscellaneous Press, award-winning short story writer and poet. She is also known through her personal blog as ‘Miscellaneous Mum‘. She is on Twitter as @miscmum.

9 Steps to a Daily Blogging Schedule

This guest post is by Caz Makepeace of y Travel Blog.

I publish almost daily on two blogs.

I have many people comment and ask me how I manage to do it, especially since I have two children, one being three months old.

While it is by no means easy, and I spend a lot of my sleeping time awake, there are still many strategies I employ to make it more manageable.

1. Write short, snappy content

The old adage less is more works here. You don’t have to write a lengthy, verbose story to gain a following.

Short, snappy posts that entertain and get a point across work well too, especially considering the attention span of our society’s inhabitants.

Think photos, poems, thoughts, quotes, community involving questions, giveaways, reviews, curating information for your readers, and highlighting other blogs.

2. Use guest posts

Why not have someone do the writing for you?

If you have strict guidelines attached you can make the whole process that much easier, as your guest writers understand how to format and promote to your liking.

Having someone write one post a week on your site frees you up to write a guest post for another site and attract a new set of readers as well.

3. Write daily

Why would I say this in giving tips on how to publish daily? I think you want to know how you write daily, right? Kinda neutralizes my advice.

It’s simple. The more often you write, the better you get at it, the quicker and easier it gets, the more in tune you become with your voice, and the more ideas start to flow to you as a result.

This post is an example. It took me ten minutes to write it on a train. My mind has been blog-post trained in its thinking due to my total immersion into daily writing.

4. Write from the heart

Once you tap into your voice, you tend to write more from your heart and soul rather than your head, which means less of the “logical and fearful” thought processes and more of the flow of words that pack a punch.

All of this ultimately means less work. Less work thinking, writing and editing. I don’t have to edit a post much that comes from deep within.

5. Repurpose your content

Find new ways to reproduce your old content. Turn old articles into podcasts and vice versa, turn newsletters and guest posts into new articles on your blog.

The work is already done; the ideas are there, they just need some tweaking and a slightly different angle.

If you have two blogs, like I do, you can use the same photos and content, but just tweak it a little. I often turn a travel experience I wrote about on my travel blog, into one that has a family or child angle for my personal parenting and lifestyle blog.

9. Carry a notebook everywhere, and become a keen observer

From conversations, passing billboards, songs and random thoughts, it is amazing what will spark an idea for a blog post.

If you don’t jot it down you will lose it.

I recently flew from Sydney to Melbourne for the Problogger conference. Within 30 minutes I had the outline for five posts recorded in my notebook. Had I not had the notebook that would have been five easy blog posts left at the departure gates waving me off.

7. Use your time wisely

The more I write on my blogs and spend time doing what I love, the more I come to understand what time wasters humans are.

Minutes and hours spent aimlessly wandering lost and filling the void with crappy reality TV shows and trashy magazines.

Check how you spend your time.

Ask yourself, “Is this somehow enabling me to grow? Is it fulfilling me? Can I write a blog post out of it?”

If not, put that time into something else a little more productive. We all do still need our down time, sure enough, but just don’t make it more than your on time.

If I check out to watch a movie or a TV show, or go to the beach or out to dinner, I usually find the blog post ideas won’t take a break anyway, and I hurriedly write my ideas in my notebook that is close by.

8. Stay inspired

All creation comes from inspiration. Do those activities that inspire you. You will move mountains when you operate from an inspired state.

The minute I start traveling or spending time with my daughters—the themes of my two blogs—the ideas start flowing and I can produce an incredible amount of blog posts with fresh original content.

9. Love what you do

I am able to do all of the above things without raising a sweat, or resenting the writing work. In fact I do it with a rush of gratitude and good feelings, because I love it.

When you love what you do it does not feel like work and you are more than happy to spend every waking minute doing it and the sleeping minutes as well.

The more you love the more you can do.

Caz Makepeace believes that life is all about the memories and inspires others to travel and make their life a story to tell at her popular, y Travel Blog. She also owns Mojito Mother, a blog aimed at putting the mojo back into a mother’s life, where she shares her experiences as a mother and a woman following her own dreams.

Don’t Ever Write Without this Writer’s Warm-up

This guest post is by Karol K of Online Business Design blog.

What is a writer’s warm-up? I hear you ask.

I’m going to answer this question in a minute, but first let me get an initial “yes” from you.

Did you ever notice that your initial piece of writing on a given day is not the best you can do, and you’re actually aware of that? Is that a “yes”?

Of course, there can be many reasons for this, but the main one might be simpler than you think. First of all, just because you don’t like what you’ve written doesn’t mean you have a plumber’s writer’s block. Nor does it mean that apparently it’s not your most creative day, nor that the topic doesn’t seem particularly comfortable for you, nor anything else like this.

What if, maybe, you’ve just been writing without warming up first?

Why a warm-up is important

Writer's warm-ups

Image copyright Robert Kneschke - Fotolia.com

I’m sure you know the value (actually, necessity seems to be a better word here) of warming up when it comes to any kind of physical exercise or sport.

You can’t lift heavy weights without starting with very small dumbbells to get you going. And you can’t run a marathon without some prior stretching (and probably a lot of other stuff I know nothing about since I’ve never run a marathon).

Well, it’s not just sports. What was interesting to me when I first went to a vocal class was that it always started with a warm-up too. This lets your voice prepare for the upcoming effort. Staying on the mouth—related topics, warm-ups are also nothing unusual for competitive eating professionals. From what I know they start their “training” by eating a modest one kilo of grapes…

Why is it, then, that most bloggers start writing their posts without any kind of warm-up?

I see four reasons:

  • Up until today they didn’t know about such a thing.
  • They feel warmed-up enough.
  • They don’t see the value.
  • They don’t realize the risks.

Let’s tackle them all at once, starting with the last one.

The risks of not warming up before writing

We all know the risks of not warming up before sports. Lack of a warm-up is the fastest way to an injury or a serious muscle pain that could take away the whole joy of doing sports. On a professional level, lack of a warm-up significantly lowers the performance and can even lead to a career-ending injury.

What about blogging? Well, you’re not going to break any bones, so the risks are not that obvious, but they are still there.

For instance, the most common result of writing without a warm-up is the amount of time you’ll spend staring at a blank screen. Everybody knows that getting started is the most difficult part, and many people struggle to get the words rolling.

Even though you have your post’s topic well researched, and you know what message you want to convey, getting those ideas to a digital piece of paper can be hard.

Thankfully, this whole process can be sped up a lot if you just take care of some basic warm-ups.

You see, no matter the activity, warm-ups are all about getting started. A warm-up is always a set of the most basic, simple and easy movements possible for a given activity.

Therefore, due to its simplicity, no one ever has problems with getting the warm-up done. No one is ever stuck on the warm-up because, practically, that’s impossible.

At first it seems counterintuitive, but warming up actually saves you time. You do begin writing later, that’s true, but you are more likely to finish earlier and create a better post along the way.

To be honest with you, I had my share of can’t-get-started problems in my short blogging career. There were times when I was sitting in front of a blank screen for up to an hour. I felt I couldn’t start writing anything decent even though I had the topic researched.

For me, the cause was simple: writing the mysterious “quality content” is not easy, just like doing a 300-pound bench press is not easy. Even when you posses the necessary skills, both these challenges require some warming up.

How to do a writer’s warm-up

Okay, so what’s the most basic thing you can write, one that doesn’t require any preparation whatsoever, and is impossible to get stuck on?

Writing an essay on the meaning of life is one thing, but I’d advise something different—a personal journal.

It fits the description perfectly. Everyone can write about how their day was, or what they have in plan for the evening, or what they think about other people and situations, and so on. Just like everyone can talk about these things to a friend.

So, every day (or whenever you’re doing your writing), start your writing session by firing up your personal journal (Penzu, for example is a great online journal tool) and jotting down whatever is in your mind.

There are no rules to writing a journal. Whatever you do, you’ll be doing it well. Besides, a personal journal, like the name indicates, is a purely private thing, so no one will ever see it.

I, personally, always write at least one journal entry before starting to work on an article. It takes me five to ten minutes to put down 300-800 words (I wish I could write some decent posts at this rate).

After I have my entry done I immediately switch to writing a post. And since I already have the right mindset, I can usually start without any hesitation lasting longer than two minutes or so.

You know what? I guess the “writer’s training program” is straightforward after all: five minutes of warm-up with a proper writing session afterwards.

I’m only asking for one thing here—have a little faith and try this yourself. Everyone who I’ve ever given this advice to has agreed that it’s one of the most effective things you can do to improve your writing. And for me, it’s been a true game changer.

What do you think about this whole idea? Are you using a similar technique? Maybe you’ve been doing this sort of writer’s warm-up without even knowing it? Feel free to speak up in the comments.

Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland and a grad student at the Silesian University of Technology. He hates to do traditional business but loves to train capoeira. Tune in to get his blogging advice and tips on starting an online business.

How to Create Another Day a Week Just for Blogging

This guest post is by Udi Tirosh of DIYPhotography.

When you start blogging it seems that there is never enough time—especially if you aren’t blogging full time, and you’re doing it from home. You get phone calls that need to be picked up; the service guy for the dishwasher shows up; you must read that important mail. It is not uncommon for an entire day to go by only to find out you didn’t complete any of the tasks you set for yourself.

The magic flask…

What if I told you there was a magic flask you can drink from which will freeze time for you? Every surrounding noise will stop: no calls, no incoming urgent mails, no dishes to wash or laundry to do. It will be just you and the computer. Everyone else will be frozen in time, allowing you to do your work. If you need something from someone, you just call their name and they will wake up for the exact amount of time you need them for an answer. I will grant you one flask a week.

Imagine: a whole day just for you and your work each wee. How would you use it? Would you outline your next blog series? Finally finish that long post that’s waiting in the queue? Brainstorm a subject for your next month of posts? How would you make this time useful?

Finding the extra day

Of course there is no such thing as a magic flask, but getting a day a week for your important work is actually not that hard.

All you have to do is spot the time of day when you are most prolific and productive. For some it is the afternoon, for some it is early morning. For me, it is the period after lunch.

Now decide that you are going to dedicate this time to blogging—think of it as a one-hour meeting with yourself. Actually, don’t just decide it, put it into your calendar. With a reminder. For every day of the week.

This will gain you six hours of uninterrupted work. During that time, don’t answer phones (disconnect or turn them off, if you need to), don’t surf the web (use blocking software if your willpower isn’t strong enough), and dedicate yourself to the blog.

Since this is your best time of day and since you will be uninterrupted, your potential for using this hour for something productive is high.

But it takes commitment. It means that you must use the time for work. And it means that you cannot set this appointment aside. You must stick with it every day. After a while, you’re likely to find that you need to expand that meeting. Go ahead and do that. And after a longer while, you may find that you don’t need this meeting at all.

Now, this is up to you. I’m offering the flask only for the next ten minutes. Use those ten minutes to schedule your daily appointment.

Udi Tirosh runs DIYPhotography, a place for photography lovers, and makes awesome photography products.

Listen to Your “Inner Crazy Voice”

Sometimes I hear voices … they suggest I do crazy things … and sometimes they end up being the best things I’ve done!

Speaking of 'Crazy Ideas'

Okay, that’s one of the strangest first lines of a post that I’ve written but it struck me today as I was looking back over the past few years that some of the most successful things that I’ve done have often started out as a “crazy idea.”

Perhaps it is just my personality type, but I’m a prolific idea generator. Barely a day goes by when I don’t have at least one idea for a new product, blog post, or even new blog. Sometimes the ideas are simply extensions on what I’ve done previously, but occasionally I get a really crazy idea—something that is either really big, or something that makes me laugh and shake my head.

For a long time I would simply push aside the crazy ideas, but I’m learning to at least give them a second thought these days, because the ones I’ve acted upon do have a history of working.

Let me give you some examples of “crazy ideas” that I’ve had that have worked out well, or which I’m currently working on building up:

  • Bestselling ebook: One “crazy idea” that I’ve written about recently was 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. The original idea came on 30 July 2005, when I decided that I’d write a 31 day series of blog posts here on ProBlogger, each day containing homework for readers. It was crazy because I’d never done a series that long before, I’d not really given readers “homework” to do before, and because I decided to start it the following day with no promotion or planning. The idea paid off—it eventually evolved into my bestselling ebook.
  • Successful conference: Another “crazy idea” was to hold my first ProBlogger training day. I started pondering what would happen if I held a training day for bloggers in Melbourne. Again it was something I decided to do on the spur of the moment. The period from my having the idea to running the training day itself was a matter of weeks. I’d had no experience in planning conferences, had no venue, and didn’t know how much to charge or even what we’d do on the day. Again, the idea paid off—we’ve now held two training days and there’s significant demand for more (we’re planning some exciting events for 2012).
  • ProBlogger “Tour down under”: One more “crazy idea” that looks like becoming a reality dawned on me on the way home from a conference in one of Australia’s northern states (Queensland). The state has some of the most beautiful beaches and natural wonders that you’ll ever see and, on the spur of the moment, I tweeted out that I wanted to run a competition to get bloggers form overseas to come do a tour with me of some of our country’s most beautiful regions. Among the tweet replies that came in from hundreds of bloggers wanting to come on the tour were a couple of replies from Aussie Tourism boards. Those conversations continue today—watch this space to see if this was another crazy idea that might pay off!
  • ProBlogger clothing range: Lastly, a fourth “crazy idea” that I’ve had for a couple of years now, and which looks like it might come to be, is the long-awaited “Blogger Work Ware” range of clothes. Again, this started as a crazy tweet saying I wanted to develop a range of “work clothes” for bloggers: PJs, bathrobes, and so on—after all, we’re known for blogging in our PJs are we not? The number of people who responded that they’d buy a bathrobe or PJs was overwhelming. I’m now looking at it more seriously (watch this space).

Of course I’ve had my fair share of crazy ideas that I’ve not done anything with, or which have failed. But in each of the cases I’ve mentioned here, the ideas came out of the blue and, for some reason, just wouldn’t go away.

In each case, the reaction I had straight after having the idea was to either laugh or gasp. In most cases, the reaction was the same when I told those around me. I’m learning that the laugh and gasp reactions are good. They tell you that you’ve thought of something a little out of the box—something that will, at the very least, get noticed.

The other thing I did each time was to share my crazy idea with others. In some cases, it was with another couple of people who I trusted, and some cases the “test” was to share it more widely (on Twitter in the last two cases) to see if the idea had any resonance beyond my imagination.

What has been your most crazy idea that has paid off?

5 Ways I Kill Two Birds With One Stone and Generate Ideas for Blog Posts

I love making the one piece of work pay off multiple times. One of the ways I do this is by turning other activities that I do into blog posts. Here’s five ways I’ve done it recently.

1. Live streaming video sessions

If I find myself with a spare half hour to fill in, one of the activities that I’ll sometimes engage in is a live video streaming session on Ustream.

I log into my Ustream account, start a broadcast, and then announce it on Twitter that I’m on and happy to answer questions. The sessions are fun and also deepen reader engagement for those who join in. But I’m also constantly taking note of what I’m being asked and will often turn those questions and answers into posts.

ProBlogger Training Day

Answering questions at the ProBlogger Training Day

2. Being interviewed

From time to time I’m asked by another blogger, journalist, or author to do some kind of interview with them. Some are live webinars or on radio, others are email-based interviews, others are on the phone.

Being interviewed in this way is great for bringing new readers into your blog, but I’m also usually asked at least one question during the interview which is the stimulus for a post.

3. Interviewing someone else

On the flip side of things, I also love to interview other people.

Many times as I’m preparing for an interview and researching the subject to work out what questions to ask I’m stimulated to write a post. Other times it is the answer that they give that gets me writing something new.

4. Public speaking

I’m fortunate enough to be asked to speak at conferences both here in Australia and around the world. While I love this type of presenting, I always get a little nervous in the lead up to doing it, and tend to put in quite a bit of time for preparation.

This often unearths post ideas. In fact, last time I spoke at a conference, I turned my slides into a series of blog posts. The Q&A times at the end of presentations and speaking one-on-one to attendees afterwards also gives me great ideas for posts.

5. Answering reader emails and comments

Not a day goes by when I don’t either get an email from a reader asking a question or see at least one question in blog comments.

While I try to respond to as many as I can, I also quite often turn those email or comment answers into blog posts in and of themselves. When one person has a question, it’s likely that others are thinking the same thing—so I turn that one on one answer into something others can benefit from, too.

How do you kill two birds with one stone and use other actives to generate blog post ideas?

5 Ways to Never Run Out of Blog Post Ideas

This guest post is by Katy Farber of Non-Toxic Kids.

When I started Non-Toxic Kids four years ago, I had no idea I would never run out of things to write about. In all those four years of posting between three and seven times I week, I never struggled for more than a few minutes with a topic to post about.

Why?

Maybe it has to do with my tech-savvy mom who is constantly sending me interesting links to articles about current parenting and health issues.  Seriously, how lucky am I?

But I’d like to think it has to do with the fact that I need to know about these topics. They are common sense issues and concerns that I face as a parent, and a human being on this planet.

I offer these ways to find continual and unending sources of blog material, and they are all right in front of you.

Write about what keeps you up at night

I call it the common-sense blogging approach.  Just think about what matters to you.  What can you not stop thinking about as you fall asleep, or worse, when you wake up in the middle of the night? I can’t be the only one who does this.  What are issues that your colleagues, or people in your blog niche, are worrying about right now?

For me, one topic lately is what mattress we should buy for my youngest.  A conventional one, although cheaper, may contain harmful chemicals, but the safer ones are twice as much.  I’ve put off this decision for years. Clearly, this would be a great topic to explore and write up as a post, or series of posts.

Find your flow

You may need to find your source for perpetual ideas.  It’s a different place for each of us, but we can all find it.  For me it’s running. Once my feet fall into that repetitive pattern, my mind lifts.  The steady drumbeat of my heart, the calmness of being alone, the soft sounds of the woods slow my thinking.  Sometimes it’s only then I can access a place of creative ideas and problem solving.

I like to think of it as a river right above my head.  Flowing in it is every place I’ve ever lived, my childhood, dreams, fears, loves and ideas, all flying around at electrifying speeds.  If I don’t grab ideas, pull them down into the here and now, and onto paper or the computer, they are gone until next time.  Or some I might never find again.

That is where many of my ideas are born.  On a long dirt road in Vermont, the idea for my blog was born this way (can you hear the song?).

Where is your flow? Whatever it is—sewing, walking, rocking in a hammock, gardening—find where your ideas live and grab them before they get away like birds scattering in the sky.  Then grab your computer and write, bird by bird (to borrow an expression from one of my favorite authors, Annie Lemott).

What do you and your friends talk about?

Before I started blogging, I was constantly talking with my friends about parenting issues, and we eagerly shared ideas and troubling questions about the safety of products, and what we had success with. These early conversations and questions became the foundation of my blog, Non-Toxic Kids. I was doing the research anyway, in trying to find out what was healthy for my infant daughter.  All it meant was getting these ideas into posts and sharing them with other parents in my blog.

So consider, what topics do you discuss regularly with your friends? What do you need to know about, or want to know the opinions of others you trust?  This is gold blog post material, and it is usually right in front of you.

What makes your blood boil?

There are some topics that outrage us into action.  Some of my best posts were written after I learned about a new piece of legislation, action, or inaction, about an environmental issue.  These posts usually do well sitting at least over night—or even for a few hours—for a re-read. 

Posts written hastily in anger can have troubling effects but a post written from the heart about a current issue can make a difference and strike a chord with people. Here is one example of that; it’s a post I wrote after President Obama told the EPA to withhold new ozone (smog) air quality standards that would have saved thousands of lives.  It felt good to put that negative energy into something that could make a difference.

Write about how you wish the world to be

This is a bit harder, especially in our current economic and political climate. But we have to as Gandhi said, “Be the change we wish to see in the world.” Write about your dreams.  What do you see as how we can solve our most vexxing problems? What do you want to see in terms of our environment, local communities, human communication, education, etc.?

Write about it. Describe your vision. We need to hear from each other about how we might solve the complex problems facing the world.  Take on any issue, and describe the change you dream of seeing in your lifetime.  Or describe a small moment in your life that showcased how this change is possible. This is beautiful, optimistic blog material.

These are our ever-flowing sources of blogging material, because we are all constantly exploring what it means to be alive in this world, how we can live better, and help others and ourselves more fully.

How do you generate your blog post ideas?  Please share these in the comments. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Katy Farber blogs at Non-Toxic Kids.  She’s a teacher, author, and blogger who just released a new ebook, Eat Non-Toxic: A manual for busy parents and is the author of two education books, Why Great Teachers Quit and Change the World with Service Learning.