On the weekend I got ‘speakers block’. I had to do two speaking gigs and a couple of times in my preparation ‘hit the wall’ when it came to creative ideas on how to make my presentations to the next level. Luckily I’ve been speaking in public for around 12 years and have developed a few techniques for breaking through such blockages – many of which are applicable to the dreaded ‘bloggers block’.
So I’ve decided to adapt what I do to break through the dry patches in my speaking to tackle the question of how to battle against bloggers block. I’ve come up with 20+ short tips which I’ll share over the coming week as a series. As I add them one by one on the main blog I’ll also add them to this page so you can have one place for the complete series. Feel free to chip in in comments as we go with your own bloggers block busting techniques. Not all of them will be suitable for every blog – but hopefully in the mix will be something of use to you next time you get bloggers block.
Put your Hands in the air and step away from the Computer!
On Saturday when I came to the end of my inspiration I got out of the house for a couple of hours and went for a long walk. I often find that when I change my environment that inspiration comes. I walked down to the main street near our place and sat in the sun for half an hour and ‘people watched’. Somewhere along the way the ideas began to flow.
Getting away from your computer and blog can definitely help but so can blogging from a new location. Some of the places I’ve blogged from in the last few months include:
- friends houses - I have a mate’s house who I occasionally spend the day at so that we can work in the same room – it’s nice to have the company – even though he’s not a blogger I find our conversations lead me to try new things on my blogs
- net cafes – I did this for a day recently when my broadband went down
- public libraries – I did this for a week 18 months back and it totally gave me a new perspective on blogging – once I got past the frustration of having to book a computer and blog in one hour blocks of time
- other rooms in the house – I have a bit of a daily rhythm now where I move rooms during the day to keep things fresh – bed, office, couch, kitchen table, back yard – wireless is my friend
- local cafes – I have one cafe that i regularly take my laptop to. They don’t have wifi but I just write there (offline) and upload later. I find it’s a great place to blog without the distractions of incoming email and IM.
Change up your blogging environment and you might just find that it gives you a fresh perspective on blogging that will unleash some blogging creativity.
I have a little Moleskine notebook (pictured) that I carry everywhere with me. I use it for all kinds of purposes but largely it’s for capturing random thoughts and ideas – often for speaking and blogging.
Idea journals are great in the short term as they are great for recording those impulsive ideas that flow through my mind all day everyday and for creating ‘to do’ lists for immediate action. However I also find them great in the long term and occasionally get my older idea journals out and flick through them to find unused creative ideas that I never go around to implementing.
It’s often when flicking through idea journals in this way that an idea leaps out. In fact the interesting thing I’ve noticed is that it’s often these discarded ideas that simmer away over time and seem to mature into my best posts.
I know I’m a bit old fashioned in writing my ideas down in a book – I know many of you use PDAs and computers to do the same thing – but I’m a bit of a visual kind of guy and like to draw diagrams, arrows between ideas and to doodle while I dream.
How ever you do it – an idea journal can be a valuable tool on many levels for bloggers.
– When I run out first sit down to work out what to say for a public speaking gig I often lock myself in a private room and just begin to speak (to myself) randomly on the topic that I’ve been asked to talk about. It feels a bit odd when you first use this technique but it’s amazing how quickly a talk begins to form in your mind as you do it. I find as I do these exercises that the first few minutes is generally pretty gibberish but that in most cases as I write whatever comes out that eventually I hit on an idea that is worth building on.
I also use this same technique with blogging. Some writers call it free writing and argue that it helps exercise your right brain – I’m not sure of the technicalities of it – but I find that it definitely gets the ideas flowing. One of the hardest parts of writing a post can be starting it – and this technique attempts to help with this.
Free writing purists say to start writing whatever comes into your head (any topic) – I do this from time to time but more regularly set myself a broad topic so that if I do stumble onto a good idea that I have some chance of using it on my blog.
It’s amazing to see what flows out of this type of exercise. Some of my best posts ever have been as a result of forcing myself to start writing. Quite often I’ll start writing on one topic and end up on another or will end up publishing only a section of what I write (having deleted the unordered gibber at the start) but on many occasions there is a gem or two in the mix that can be a post (or two) in and of themselves – or at least the beginning of a post.
Ok so this one’s not rocket science but it needs to be said. One of the strengths of blogging as a medium is the way that bloggers interact with one another and build upon each others ideas. Here’s five tips for using what others say (and don’t say) for creating original content:
a. Build on the work of others – As a result when I’m looking for inspiration for a new post I quite often look to see what other bloggers are writing about in my niche. What are they learning? What is the hot topic of the moment? What could you add as a fresh perspective on what they are learning? One of my recent popular posts on 13 Tips on Asking other Bloggers for Links came directly from this technique as I bounced off a short post by Robert Scoble. While his point was totally valid – I felt there was more to be said and so built a longer list around his original idea.
b. Look for the gaps in Conversation – Another useful question is to ask – ‘What are other bloggers in my niche NOT writing about?‘ It’s all very well and good to join a conversation – but look for the gaps in conversations also and you might just find yourself starting a whole new line of thought. Asking this question takes a little more discernment but is a skill worth developing as it has the potential to set you apart from the crowd.
c. Look outside your Niche – Don’t just limit yourself to reading bloggers in your own niche either – sometimes it’s when you look outside of your own niche to see what developments are happening elsewhere that innovative ideas comes. The Blogosphere is full many smaller blogging communities, many of which are doing incredibly creative blogging. Go exploring a blog neighborhood you’ve not visited before and you could just stumble upon an idea to bring back to your own.
d. Read Other Bloggers Archives – An area of blogging that frustrates me is that once a post slips off the front page of a blog it seems to lose it’s worth. The problem with dates on blog posts (and I see some positives with it also) is that it can make very relevant posts seem ‘dated’. The fact is that there must be an incredible wealth of knowledge locked away in the archives of some of your favorite blogs. Spend some time scanning them and you’ll probably find hundreds of ideas that you could bounce off with some posts of your own.
e. Credit where Credit is Due – One final thought – as always, be generous with giving credit to the bloggers who inspire your thoughts. While in bouncing off them you might create your own original content – but acknowledging the work of others who have gone before you in the conversation costs you little.
Regular readers will know that I like a Tangent – I love to take everyday situations, ideas and experiences that have no relation to blogging and find ways to combine make them illustrate a point.
Some of the best inventions and scientific discoveries come out of this type of thinking – bringing together two ideas that have not previously been connected to form something new and fresh.
Of course this type of thinking doesn’t just happen – it takes practice to be able to see the world this way.
Edward De Bono has many creative thinking techniques that help people develop this type of thinking. I’m not completely sure which of his books I read it in – but I seem to remember him suggesting free thinking brainstorming around a question like:
‘Think of as many uses as possible for a fork’
The challenge was to come up with as many answers as possible (no answer was too silly) in a short period of time. The answers are useless (unless you’re in the cutlery manufacturing business) but the thinking processes are valuable as you begin to learn the power of creative thinking and thinking outside the box when it comes to everyday objects.
This is the type of thinking that was behind some of my older entries on blogging like a goose, talking about blogging and parenting, blogging and marriage, starting the Blogger Idol meme, and blogging and Travelator users and their techniques (among others). Now it might just have been me who enjoyed the challenge of writing these posts – but I found them fun ways to talk about things I’d talked about many times before – with a twist.
One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given by the person who taught me to public speak many years ago was to identify a need that those who are listening to you might have and to use this as the starting point for a post.
People buy into what you are communicating if they have a felt need that they feel you might be able to help them with.
Starting with a need not only helps your audience or readership but that it can also help in the writing process. I’m much more motivated to write if I’m communicating on something I need to learn about myself or something that I’ve found an answer to.
So when you’re looking for that elusive topic to write about (this is after all often the hardest part of getting past bloggers block) ask yourself some questions to help you get in touch with the needs of readers in your niche:
- What questions do I get asked most of all?
- When I first started exploring this topic what was my biggest question or need?
- What is my biggest current need in the area that I’m blogging about?
- What words do people come to my blog having typed into search engines (you can get this from most stats packages) and what does this tell me about what people need?
Once you’ve identified the need you’re well on the way to writing a useful original post that should be popular with your readership – if you can find something worthwhile to say about it that is!
This is a basic tip that can help you to identify the needs of your readers – simply ask them.
Once again this isn’t rocket science – but it’s amazing what results when you do it.
Start a Question File – I get questions on most of my blogs every day or two from readers wanting information on the topics I cover. Collect questions like this and put them in a file for one of those days when you can’t come up with a topic to write about.
Call for Questions – If you don’t get asked questions by readers normally give them permission to ask you questions. I tend not to do this much these days because the questions tend to come faster than I can answer them at the best of times – but when I first started blogging I actively sought questions with an ‘ask a question’ link on my blog. Of course if you do this you’d better be willing to answer them. In the early days I also occasionally would go as far as asking specific readers for questions by picking a few from my newsletter and emailing them the offer for me to do a free short consulting job for them as long as I could blog about my answers to their questions.
Ask Your Own Questions – If readers still don’t ask questions – ask some yourself! Some of the best discussions I’ve ever seen on a blog have been the result of the blogger themselves admitting a lack of knowledge on a topic and asking for help.
Creating an environment for questions and answers can really bring your blog alive – especially if you can create a culture where bloggers feel comfortable to ask even the simplest of questions and where bloggers get into the habit of answering the questions of each other instead of just leaving it all up to you.
Sometimes I get stuck on an idea because I’ve only ever looked at it from one angle. What about tackling it from another direction? Flip it!
One of the most memorable discussions I’ve ever participated in here at ProBlogger was the day I asked ‘What’s Wrong with Blogging?‘
What I didn’t write on that post was that the idea actually came to me on a day when I was trying to write a post on the topic of ‘What’s Good about Blogging?’ Sometimes when we flip an idea and start arguing a case that we don’t agree with we learn a lot and find new inspiration.
Another time I flipped an idea was back in March when I ran my first annual ProBlogger Underblogger Awards. Again the idea started as a normal Awards post but flipping it to be an award with a twist took it to a more unique place.
Run out of ideas? Find someone who hasn’t to work with.
One of the great things about blogging is the relational aspect of it. The ideas that come when you put your head together with someone else are often quite amazing. Collaboration can happen on many different levels including:
- Guest Blogging - get someone in to write on your blog from time to time to freshen things up
- Blog Swaps – swap blogs with another blogger for a day
- Joint Posts – write on a topic together in a one off way
- Interviews – interview each other
- Joint Blogs – start a blog with someone – split up the work (and rewards) between you
- Blog Network – one of the things I like most about networks is the companionship and new possibilities to work together that they can bring
- Chatting on IM/email - just chatting about your blog, it’s goals and how you’re going with your blog can be a real motivator. If I have an idea for a new blog I quite often do a brainstorming session with another blogger or two around the idea.
- Participate in discussion forums – there are many discussion forums out there which can not only be quite informative but which give opportunity for collaborating around ideas
Rubbing shoulders with other bloggers (and non bloggers) keeps me sane and is one of the main reasons that I’m able to sustain what I do. Without it blogging can become a pretty lonely existence.
When I was at school and then university one of the things that got my act together the most when it came to writing essays was a looming deadline. I work well under pressure (or maybe I’m just lazy and don’t work well when there is a lack of pressure) so deadlines work very well for me and I set them for myself in my blogging on a regular basis.
Deadlines need to be used with caution (they actually can be the cause of bloggers block for some people) but I find that having posting goals and deadlines helps me to keep fresh content turning over on my blog.
Deadlines can take a number of forms and can range from setting yourself a daily posting goal to starting a series of posts (ie tell everyone that over the next week you’ll write a post per day on a certain topic and you’ve suddenly made yourself accountable to writing something every day – other people waiting for a post can be just the motivation you need).
Another type of deadline that I know a few bloggers use is to have a blog buddy who they keep themselves accountable to by telling them their goals and asking the other blogger to check up on them. I know one blogger who does this same thing with his wife – she reads and counts his posts every night (quality and quantity check) – not to check up on him because she doesn’t trust him – but because he finds that it helps to keep him motivated to know someone is watching with that purpose in mind.
One note of qualification – deadlines suit my personality type but I don’t recommend them for everyone. Try them but if they cause you more stress then they are worth and they decrease the quality of your work rather than increase then give them away and find some other methods to keep you inspired.
It seems an appropriate day (with many of my US readers currently off eating Turkey and being thankful) to talk about having a break from blogging.
Whether it’s a longer holiday, long weekend, day off or even a lunch or coffee break – time off is probably one of the most essential tips I’d give Pro Blogger types. I got sucked into the 7 days per week 12 work life earlier in the year and it’s perhaps the quickest way to deteriorate your effectiveness as a blogger and the quality of your content. It can also be one of the major causes of bloggers block.
It’s just not worth it to work so crazily. I still work very hard at my blogging these days – but time off is essential and is a big part of being productive and building a sustainable blog.
On a personal level I try to build time off into my blogging in a number of ways including:
- Holidays – this year we’ve gone away for a number of breaks (in June we were away for the whole month).
- Weekends – in the later half of this year I’ve scaled back my weekend blogging. I still do it but only lightly and as a last priority.
- Daily breaks – I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I’ve started a vegetable patch – it’s become a way that I regularly break up my day. I also go for walks, photographic expeditions etc during most days.
- Friendship breaks – I’m regularly using lunch breaks and afternoons (when I’m not productive) to spend time with people. I found that being a solo business person meant I needed to be a bit more pro-active in my social interactions with people.
- Breaks from Blogs – recently I’ve been taking days off from specific blogs. One of the challenges of running multiple blogs is that it’s easy to get a little burnt out and bored with some subjects (not ProBlogging of course….). One way to combat this is simply to take an intentional day off from time to time from a specific blog. I often find that when I do this I come back to the blog with a fresh approach and energy for it.
It’s pretty basic stuff really – I’m sure many people don’t struggle with the time off factor like I do but I tend to be something of a workaholic and so this post is probably more for me than anyone else.
I’m off for a coffee….
The saying of ‘what goes in comes out’ is true – what you put into your mind has a direct impact upon what comes out of it.
I find that when I’m in a ‘dry patch’ in terms of generating content or coming up with ideas that I’m also often in a dry patch in terms of what I’m doing creatively in the rest of my life.
I purposely listen to music, go to the movies, watching the news, read a variety of books, magazines and newspapers, hang out with creative and innovative people, get out in the vegetable patch, do some photography etc to engage my senses and fill my brain with new ideas. When I do this I generally find that I come up with more interesting ideas and am more productive.
Particularly useful is to do new things – take yourself out of your comfort zone into a completely new experience can shake you out of that numb blocked state.
I’m a (mid) morning person – 10am until midday are what I call my golden hours. They are when I am at my best in terms of thinking creatively and getting things done.
That’s not to say that I fall in a heap for the rest of my day. All I know is that if I need to be coming up with ideas, writing important posts, run a class (six figure blogging started at 10am Melbourne time) or thinking through the big issues that those are the hours I put aside for this type of work.
Identify those time/s in the day (some of us have a number of golden hours – I often come alive at about 10.30pm also) when you’re at your best and clear those times of the day for your most important and creative work.
Dead Patches – On the flip side of the Golden Hour is that most of us also have dead patches in our daily rhythm. For me it’s 2pm – 4pm. I’m next to useless at this time of day when it comes to productivity – it’s like my brain shifts into siesta mode. So most afternoons at this time you can find me either having an afternoon nap, in the garden, reading a novel or catching up with people.
It’s really about finding your own rhythm as a person and working within it to work to your strengths and weaknesses to get your best results.
Mix it Up – Of course every rule has it’s exceptions and another thing you might want to try is to completely mix things up from time to time. If you always write at the same time each day religiously – try changing it up occasionally as an experiment. Get up early and try writing, stay up late, write in short sessions etc. Mixing up the time of day and/or the lengths of time you assign for writing can cause you to approach the task of writing differently which could bring different results.
What’s your daily rhythm like? Do you have a Golden hour (or more than one)? What do you schedule into these times?
Comment on Others Blogs – Have you ever started commenting on someone else’s blog and found that your comment turns into quite an epic!? You get to the end of it and you realize that you’ve been so inspired that you’ve virtually written a blog post? Maybe you have.
I quite often use the comments that I leave on other people’s blogs as the starting point for my own posts.
Of course I always link to the place I left the comment to acknowledge the blog that got my juices flowing – but reading and commenting upon other bloggers ideas is often a great way to break through bloggers block. Similarly participating in online forums that focus on the niche of your blog can help get you going. I quite often use what I write in forums as the basis for posts.
In the same way you can always mine (as in dig for gold) the Comments Section on Your Blog.
The comments section on your own blog can be a fertile ground for ideas for new posts. I’m often inspired by the comments left by readers here at ProBlogger and use them as the starting points for many of my new posts.
After you’ve been writing on a topic for a year or more it’s normal to get to a point where you feel like you’ve said everything that needs to be said on a topic.
While you might have covered your topic fairly comprehensively it’s worth remembering that most of your readers will not have read everything that you’ve previously written – and if they have they are unlikely to remember it all. I’m constantly being asked by readers about topics that I’ve already covered which proves this point.
There’s no rules against having two or more posts on your blog on the same general topic.
Go back over some older posts and tackle some of the topics you’ve written about previously again.
One way of doing this is simply to write a new post on the same topic – another way that some bloggers use is to update an old post and then to change the post day to be the most recent one on your blog. The good thing about this is that it means your archives don’t become quite as dated as they could otherwise – especially useful if you are giving tips on an industry that is changing quickly.
Of course you can only write on the same topic so many times so be a little careful about using this technique too much or you run the risk of disillusioning your readership.
Bounce off Yourself - Another technique that I notice some bloggers use is to write posts that bounce off previous posts like you might bounce off another blogger’s posts. To do this pick an old post that you’ve written and write something that extends what you previously wrote. For example:
- take a list of tips you’ve previously written and add a second post with some new points
- take an old opinion piece and tell readers why you don’t agree with what you once wrote (bloggers are allowed to change you mind)
- look back on a post you wrote ‘this date last year’ and reflect upon how things have changed
- look at a ‘prediction’ post you wrote earlier in the year and see how much of it came to be
Looking back on what you’ve previously written is a fascinating exercise on so many levels – do it regularly and you might be surprised with what you find.
Most niches have both big and little picture aspects to them. Good bloggers have a grasp of both and are able to expand upon them in the one blog. For instance in the Pro Blogging niche some big picture issues include topics like How Bloggers Make Money from Blogs (a broad sweeping overview of the blogging for money ‘industry’) where as a micro post might be something like How to Use Keywords in Titles (very focused upon a minute (yet important) aspect of the whole niche).
It’s a worthwhile exercise to surf back through your past few months archives and to analyze what type of posts you predominately focus on. Are you a Macro or Micro posting blogger or something in between?
Don’t beat yourself up about being one or the other – we each have our own personality types and are drawn to different aspects of our niches – it’s OK to be one or the other – all I’m arguing is that to switch over to the area that you don’t normally focus upon can be one way to get past bloggers block.
If you predominantly focus on broad sweeping topics try breaking it down and examining one small part of it at a time – perhaps you could do this as a series of posts over a week or so.
Conversely if you always blog about the details take a step back and consider a post that talks about the whole industry that you are involved with. What is the state of your niche? What are the issues that it is currently facing? Where is it heading as it moves into a new year?
Diversifying your posts in this way can not only help you find new topics to blog about – but it can give your blogging a new dimension and help to show your own diversity of expertise on the field in which you blog as people see you have a broad handle on the topic.
It’s easy to get bored and stale with one tone of writing so it might be worth mixing it up occasionally and experimenting with a new voice.
While you don’t want to do this all the time (it’s important to establish a voice and develop some consistency in a blog) – it can be refreshing to do from time to time.
Write something in the third person, write a rant, inject some humor, write a fictional scenario etc. Change your voice or tone a little and you might just find it creates a bit of a spark in you (and your readers) that spawns a whole new aspect to your blog.
I noticed the impact of changing your voice a while back when I let loose with a little bit of a rant post – I got email from a couple of readers saying that they saw a different side of me when I did it – a bit of a change from the ‘nice/goodie goodie’ label I seem to get from time to time. I also found that it got me thinking in a different way – something that brought a bit of energy back into my blogging.
In the same way that it’s easy to get ‘stuck’ in always posting in the same voice – it’s also possible to get stuck in always writing in the same form or genre.
Yesterday I decided to look through a the 500 blogs entered in Australia’s Best Blog Competition (I didn’t view them all but looked over at least 200). I was amazed by the talent out there. I also came away from the exercise struck by variety of different approaches that people take to blogging – especially with the form of posts that they write.
As I surfed I jotted down some of the different types of posts that I came across. Experiment with some of these and you might find it helps you in your battle with Bloggers Block. I came up with 20 types of posts – but am sure there are more. Feel free to suggest your own in comments below:
20 Types of Blog Posts
• Instructional – Instructional posts tell people how to do something. I find that my Tips posts are generally the ones that are among my most popular both in the short term (ie loyal readers love them and will link up to them) but also in the longer term (ie one of the reasons people search the web is to find out how to do things and if you can rank highly with your tips post you can have traffic over a length of time).
• Informational – This is one of the more common blog post types where you simply give information on a topic. It could be a definition post or a longer explanation of some aspect of the niche that you’re writing on. This is the crux of successful sites like wikipedia
• Reviews – Another highly searched for term on the web is ‘review’ – I know every time I’m considering buying a new product that I head to Google and search for a review on it first. Reviews come in all shapes and sizes and on virtually every product or service you can think of. Give your fair and insightful opinion and ask readers for their opinion – reviews can be highly powerful posts that have a great longevity.
• Lists – One of the easiest ways to write a post is to make a list. Posts with content like ‘The Top Ten ways to….’, ‘7 Reasons why….’ ‘ 5 Favourite ….’, ’53 mistakes that bloggers make when….’ are not only easy to write but are usually very popular with readers and with getting links from other bloggers. Read my post – 8 Reasons Why Lists are Good for Getting Traffic to your Blog for more on lists. One last tip on lists – if you start with a brief list (each point as a phrase or sentence) and then develop each one into a paragraph or two you might just end up with a series of posts that lasts you a few days. That’s how I started the Bloggers Block series.
• Interviews – Sometimes when you’ve run out of insightful things to say it might be a good idea to let someone else do the talking in an interview (or a guest post). This is a great way to not only give your readers a relevant expert’s opinion but to perhaps even learn something about the topic you’re writing yourself. One tip if you’re approaching people for an interview on your blog – don’t overwhelm them with questions. One of two good questions are more likely to get you a response than a long list of poorly thought through ones.
• Case Studies - Another popular type of post here at ProBlogger have been those where I’ve taken another blog and profiled them and how they use their site to earn money from their blogging (eg – one I did on Buzzmachine – the blog of Jeff Jarvis). Sometimes these are more like a review post but on occasion I’ve also added some instructional content to them and made some suggestions on how I’d improve them. Case studies don’t have to be on other websites of course – there are many opportunities to do case studies in different niches.
• Profiles – Profile posts are similar to case studies but focus in on a particular person. Pick an interesting personality in your niche and do a little research on them to present to your readers. Point out how they’ve reached the position they are in and write about the characteristics that they have that others in your niche might like to develop to be successful.
• Link Posts - The good old ‘link post’ is a favourite of many bloggers and is simply a matter of finding a quality post on another site or blog and linking up to it either with an explanation of why you’re linking up, a comment on your take on the topic and/or a quote from the post. Of course adding your own comments makes these posts more original and useful to your readers. The more original content the better but don’t be afraid to bounce off others in this way.
• ‘Problem’ Posts – I can’t remember where I picked this statistic up but another term that is often searched for in Google in conjunction with product names is the word ‘problems’. This is similar to a review post (above) but focusses more upon the negatives of a product or service. Don’t write these pieces just for the sake of them – but if you find a genuine problem with something problem posts can work for you.
• Contrasting two options – Life is full of decisions between two or more options. Write a post contrasting two products, services or approaches that outlines the positives and negatives of each choice. In a sense these are review posts but are a little wider in focus. I find that these posts do very well on some of my product blogs where people actually search for ‘X Product comparison to Y Product’ quite a bit.
• Rant – get passionate, stir yourself up, say what’s on your mind and tell it like it is. Rants are great for starting discussion and causing a little controversy – they can also be quite fun if you do it in the right spirit. Just be aware that they can also be the beginnings of a flaming comment thread and often it’s in the heat of the moment when we say things that we later regret and that can impact our reputation the most.
• Inspirational - On the flip side to the angry rant (and not all rants have to be angry) are inspirational and motivational pieces. Tell a story of success or paint a picture of ‘what could be’. People like to hear good news stories in their niche as it motivates them to persist with what they are doing. Find examples of success in your own experience or that of others and spread the word.
• Research – In the early days I wrote quite a few research oriented posts – looking at different aspects of blogging – often doing mind numbing counting jobs. I remember once surfing through 500 blogs over a few days to look at a number of different features. Research posts can take a lot of time but they can also be well worth it if you come up with interesting conclusions that inspire people to link up to you.
• Collation Posts – These are a strange combination of research and link posts. In them you pick a topic that you think your readers will find helpful and then research what others have said about it. Once you’ve found their opinion you bring together everyone’s ideas (often with short quotes) and tie them together with a few of your own comments to draw out the common themes that you see.
• Prediction and Review Posts – We see a lot of these at the end and start of the year where people do their ‘year in review’ posts and look at the year ahead and predict what developments might happen in their niche in the coming months.
• Critique Posts – ‘Attack posts’ have always been a part of blogging (I’ve done a few in my time) but these days I tend to prefer to critique rather than attack. Perhaps it’s a fine line but unless I get really worked up I generally like to find positives in what others do and to suggest some constructive alternatives to the things that I don’t like about what they do. I don’t really see the point in attacking others for the sake of it, but as I’ve said before this more a reflection of my own personality than much else I suspect and some people make a name for themselves very well by attacking others.
• Debate – I used to love a good debate in high school – there was something about preparing a case either for or against something that I quite enjoyed. Debates do well on blogs and can either in an organised fashion between two people, between a blogger and ‘all comers’ or even between a blogger and… themselves (try it – argue both for and against a topic in one post – you can end up with a pretty balanced post).
• Hypothetical Posts – I haven’t done one of these for a while but a ‘what if’ or hypothetical post can be quite fun. Pick a something that ‘could’ happen down the track in your industry and begin to unpack what the implications of it would be. ‘What if….Google and Yahoo merged?’ ‘What if …’
• Satirical – One of the reasons I got into blogging was that I stumbled across a couple of bloggers who were writing in a satirical form and taking pot shots at politicians (I can’t seem to find the blog to link to). Well written satire or parody can be incredibly powerful and is brilliant for generating links for your blog.
• Memes and Projects - write a post that somehow involves your readers and gets them to replicate it in someway. Start a poll, an award, ask your readers to submit a post/link or run a survey or quiz. Read more on memes.
As I’ve written above – this is not an exhaustive list but rather just some of the types of posts that you might like to throw into your blog’s mix. Not every one will be suitable for all blogs or bloggers but using more than one format can definitely add a little spice an color to a blog. Lastly another technique is to mix two or more of the above formats together – there are no rules so have a bit of fun with it and share what you do in comments below.
If you’re anything like me, one of the hardest parts of writing a post is starting it. Introductions can be easy to get stuck on and so I often simply skip them completely and write the meat of the post first before going back to write the introduction. In a sense your introduction then becomes a conclusion…. at the start of your post.
This is how I was taught to write essays at school and think it applies quite nicely to longer blog posts. It’s especially good when you start out writing one thing and end up writing another!
If you don’t have much to say, don’t say much.
Resist the pressure to have to fully unpack every aspect of every topic – instead let your readers unpack a topic for you with an invitation at the end of your post.
Web readers are notorious for having short attention spans and staying on websites for very short periods of time – so a short post can be just as effective (if not more so) than a longer one.
They can also give bloggers block a good hiding also as they take the pressure of having to have massive depth in every post you write off a little.
Sometimes bloggers block can get completely on top of you and start to get you down – I often get to this point midway through posts. You might known the scenario too – you start off so well and then you get to this midway point where you begin to lose your way. Clarity goes out the window and you start to meander around that succinct and profound point you had so clear in your mind when you started.
While persisting and pushing through can be an option at this point – sometimes I find it best to simply save the post as a draft to come back to at a later point in time.
I quite often sit on posts like this for a few days (and sometimes quite a bit more) before coming back to them. Of course this all depends how time dependent the topic at hand is. If you’re breaking a story you might want to try the ‘pushing through it’ option!
Putting posts aside enables me to clear my mind and work on something else (or have a sleep) before coming back to it with a fresh approach.
The metaphor that comes to mind as I write this is that a good post can be like a good wine that gets put away in a cool dark place for a while once the elements of the post are mixed together to ferment. Some of my best posts went through a very similar process and I suspect are much the better for it.
Take home lessons – don’t rush your posts, give them time to develop and consider taking a break mid post.
– A couple of months ago I stumbled upon a podcast that really impacted the way in which I thought about creating content. It was an interview with online entrepreneur James Maduk by Michael Pollock.
James has created many online resources and in the interview he spoke about many things (some of which I didn’t completely connect with but other parts that were excellent). The main message that come out of it for me was the idea of not just creating content when you sit down to create content but to look at ways of creating content of different kinds while you did other things.
He used the example of answering questions from others in email. Instead of responding to questions via email (which can be a lengthy process) and at the end hitting send and forgetting about it – James suggests capturing the content of that email and using it in some way that is bigger than the email itself. For bloggers this might simply be using it fully (or part of it) as a post on your blog. For James it meant using it as some other digital asset – potentially an e-book or sellable article.
James talked about doing the same thing with phone-calls and conversations by recording them and turning them into a podcast – ie mining your other communications to use in your online entrepreneurial activities.
The beauty of this approach is that you end using time more effectively as you kill two birds with one stone by answering the email and also writing a post for your blog. It’s also good because your blog post emerges out of a real life need that someone has that has prompted them to contact you in the first place.
Of course you’ll want to pick and choose the times when this is appropriate. Your readers won’t want to have an insight into every email you send and you’ll need to get permission of the other person if you record a conversation or are revealing any information about them.
Tangent Time: When I was a kid my parents used to use a ‘star system’ where they’d have a piece of paper on the fridge with a table on it with the names of us three kids and the days of the week. Each day we had the potential to earn up to three ‘gold stars’ (little stickers). Stars were awarded for good behavior, doing chores, not doing certain bad habbits etc (basically it was a behavior modification technique). When we got to 50 gold stars we were allowed to trade in our stars for a reward of some kind (usually food or toys).
In a sense it was an incentive program that taught us how to work toward a goal and learn a bit of discipline along the way (either that or it was a twisted child labor type of thing).
It’s actually a technique that I still use on myself to this day. While I don’t have a little table with gold stars on it – I do have certain blogging goals in my mind and I give myself rewards and treats to mark occasions along the way.
It needn’t be a big reward but setting targets to aim for in this way can be a good motivation to keep your blogging moving. I do this both on a micro level (ie at the end of big posts or for reaching a daily posting schedule goal) but also on a macro level (ie for reaching monthly and even quarterly goals).
What goals do you have and what rewards might you put in place for when you achieve them?
Sometimes I think a lot clearer and come up with better content when I say it out loud before I write it. I wrote about this briefly in Tip 3 but I realized after writing that just how useful the technique has been for me over the years and decided that it deserves a post of it’s own.
As I mentioned in Tip 3, this is a technique I quite often use in my public speaking. If I’ve got a topic but don’t know how to say it I find verbalizing it (usually to myself) can be a brilliant way of bringing clarity and to explore the different options that might come.
As I speak I usually have a whiteboard that I scribble on to record where my one sided conversation leads me. When I use this technique I often pretend that I’m speaking to another person, trying to explain the topic that I’m exploring.
It took me a while to get used to the idea of talking to myself (they say it’s the first sign of madness don’t they?) but once I got over the fear of someone walking in I got used to it and quite enjoy the process. I find I’m often at my most creative in these times and it can lead me to some surprising results.
Of course you don’t have to do it to an empty room – you can find a real person to have a two sided conversation with – just make sure you take a pen and paper and take a few notes along the way.
You might even like to try recording yourself in these times – it could turn into a podcast if you find you’ve got a knack for it.
This will be the last post in the Battling Bloggers Block series of posts. You can read the full series all in the one place at Battling Bloggers Block.
I think I’ve talked briefly about Mind Mapping here at ProBlogger before – but have never really expanded upon what I do. I should say up front that I’ve never really had any training in Mind Maps and probably do it all wrong – but I do find what I do to be very helpful in coming up with outside the square kind of ideas.
In short – what I do is get a piece of paper or my trusted white board out and in the centre of it write a word that relates to the post/series/blog that I want to write. I usually put a box or circle around the word – it’s my central idea.
Sprouting out from the central word I begin to write other words that relate to it. Each one is joined to the first word with a line and has it’s own circle around it. These words could relate to the first word in any number of ways. They might be fanciful crazy ideas or thoughts with tenuous links or they might be concrete and predictable ones. At this point I don’t stop long on any word but stay in brainstorming mode.
From these second words come other words that link to them with lines – the process continues. Some threads of thought might end up being 7 or 8 words long, others might stop after 1 idea.
What ends up happening is that the page fills up with words that all link to one another. It can end up looking very chaotic and unordered but amidst the messiness is often a few gems of ideas that I come back to once my ability to brainstorm comes to an end.
At this point I note down some of the key ideas and enter into a phase of exploring each in turn in a slightly deeper and more critical way. I won’t bore you with the rest of the process – but want to leave the first part with you as a great way to get your mind working and coming up with ideas.
Pick a broad topic for your first word and then do this exercise and you might just end up with a plethora (always wanted to use that word in a post) of ideas for posts. You might find a number of series of posts emerge – or even a new blog or two.
I try to do this sort of exercise at least every month (although lately I’ve let it slip). It’s especially useful after you’ve done a bit of a blog review and are looking for fresh direction.