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How I Write and How I Decide What To Write

People seem fascinated with routines – how other people get things done and the like. While you do need to develop your own way of getting it all done, it can be inspiring and reassuring to hear how others are doing it. (Yesterday I wrote – 7 Things I Did Not Know About Writing Before I Started)

How I decide what to write about

photo credit: Sven Van Echelpoel via photopin cc

photo credit: Sven Van Echelpoel via photopin cc

I have a pretty solid editorial calendar that runs out about a year in terms of monthly focus themes so my blog posts, podcasts and guest content is lined up to match my annual plan. For example, this month’s theme is writing. I also write a lot of content for needs beyond my blog – presentations, eBooks and webinars often show up in outline form on my blog. (Here’s a description of this Total Content System approach)

How I write

I’m an outliner. I come up with the primary point I want to make from the blog post and then I outline the supporting points, elements and resources that I need to add to fill it out. I find that this approach allows me to stay focused and write very quickly. I write an opening statement, add 3-5 subheads, fill in each and wrap it up with a restatement of the original point.

Then I add lots of links, tips, tools and additional reading to make it as useful as possible. The last thing I add is the headline. I use SEO plugin to create URL, title, and description but the headline is there to grab attention in places like Twitter and RSS readers.

I asked Seth Godin, Mitch Joel, Ann Handley, Mark Schaefer, CC Chapman, Ian Cleary and Brian Solis two questions related to today’s post and I’ve included their thoughts here to give you even more insight into the practices of others who write.

My questions:
1) Describe your blog editorial process: how you decide what to write about
2) Describe your blog writing process: how you attack the actual process of writing a post
Their answers:

Seth Godin

sethIt doesn’t matter.

If you had Elvis’ microphone, you wouldn’t sing like Elvis, nor would you want to.

Readers don’t care about shovels, they care about holes!

Mitch Joel

mitchEditorial process: At the beginning of every day, I scan my email inbox. I subscribe to a significant amount of e-newsletters and I use this as my pure inspiration. If there’s something that really pops up, I tend to save it in an email inbox folder titled “blog.” Over the course of the day, if I find anything else that inspires, I also file it there by sending myself an email. When I finally feel like I am ready to write, there is usually one theme that bubbles up to the top and that’s the one that I roll with. My typical blogging time is at the end of the day, but inspiration can hit at any time… from anywhere.

Writing process: This pretty straightforward. I start with the title and just blog. Once the first draft is done, I do a quick spellcheck and glance for grammar. I review the post a couple of times and put in the tags last.

Brian Solis

solisAbout the only plan I bring to the table is the desire to blog and to do so with rhythm and passion. While I don’t maintain an editorial calendar, I do keep an open mind to trends and also the ongoing challenges and questions I see people asking or attempting to address. I keep a list of ideas as they come up via Apple’s Reminder app. For the most part, I write on the weekends. It’s quieter and I can slow down and focus enough to think through what I’m writing about, who it’s for and what the takeaway will be. I’ll then publish the posts later in the week. I don’t however, write against an outline. I go with a feeling and let it evolve naturally. I think about the outcome as I go to make sure that there’s value at the end. But, often I find that what I set out to write and what I end up publishing are often two different pieces altogether.

Ann Handley

annhEditorial: At MarketingProfs, our editorial process on the text/newsletter side is generally mapped out about a month in advance (with some flexibility for timely items that deserve coverage).

We aren’t a news site with real-time coverage — instead, we publish how-to information with an eye toward filtering the noise to get to the signal. We educate marketers about what they need to know, when they need to know it.

How to we know that? We listen, read tons of blogs/sites, and rely on the PR folks we have relationships with, as well. We also practice what I call “social prospecting,” looking for good writers/speakers/story or session ideas via social networks.

The one exception to my statement about us “not being a news site” relates to our research summaries (here’s an example: http://www.marketingprofs.com/charts/2013/10730/internet-ad-revenue-breaks-record-mobile-achieves-111-yoy-growth) and opinions (www.mpdailyfix.com), which are timely and newsworthy, but not necessarily breaking.

On my own site (AnnHandley.com), I feel no pressure to produce. So I only create content there when I can’t stand not to, and I don’t have anything that remotely resembles an editorial calendar. For example, after seeing Sheryl Sandberg speak in Boston recently, I felt compelled to write this (link), because I couldn’t not write about it. So the things I create there are far more emotionally charged for me. But the trade-off is that I post waaay less frequently.

Writing: I almost always start with a headline that expresses my distinct point of view, which becomes a sort of Blog Mission Statement for the whole post.

That headline doesn’t always end up being the one I use on publication, but it always gives me a framework and perspective to work from. This is critical for me because, as someone who started my career as a newspaper reporter, I sometimes find it a challenge to put “me” into the story, and to not feel like I have to cover an issue comprehensively, like a news reporter might. That was a huge shift for me, when I started blogging.

I know lots of people use word outlines and graphical organizers and mind maps and the like. But I’ve always been terrible at that. (Side note: I was always also terrible at diagramming sentences. Something about it feels like foisting math sensibilities onto the mystery and poetry of the written word. Also, I’m allergic to math.)

I’ll add one more thing about writing a post or article or pretty much anything: Sometimes writing comes easily, and the words flow onto the page as easily as soft butter onto warm toast. But that’s rare. More often than not, the words are like cold butter on sandwich bread: When you try to work it, the whole thing ends up kind of a mess.

It’s disheartening. Sometimes you cry. But if you keep at it, it somehow works out.

Writing is relatively easy. Good writing is very, very, very hard.

CC Chapman

ccEditorial: I wish I was more of a planner who would lay out a full editorial calendar, but that isn’t how I work (although I do it for clients all the time.)

For me when I get inspired, I write. Sometimes if I just have an idea and don’t have enough time to do all the full post so I’ll start a new post in wordpress and leave it as a draft. I’ve got tons of these and on days when I’m stuck for something to write I’ll go through the drafts and pick one.

I am constantly consuming content from every source imaginable and many times that will inspire what I decide to write about, but sometimes it comes from going for a walk, taking a shower or any other random time.

Writing: For me, I always write the post first. I’ll sit down and brain dump the idea directly into word press. Sometimes the headline comes first, but even if I have an idea for it, usually by the time I’m done writing it will evolve and change.

I proof read it at least twice with the final time being in a preview window so I’m reading it as it will look live on the site. This helps me notice strange formatting and since it is bigger text then the editor, I tend to notice mistakes a bit quicker.

Mark Schaefer

schaeferEditorial: I have absolutely no editorial calendar, which I find rather liberating. I write about whatever interests me and try to write ahead so I have at least 10 or so posts ready if I need them. To me, scheduling the blog is kind of what it must be like to conduct a symphony. You want it to flow in a harmonious way, pulling here and there to get just the right mix. I want there to be an ideal blend of tips, insights, opinion, and fun. Most of all it is has to be interesting and one way to accomplish this is to be flexible enough to write about what is happening now, not what was scheduled a month ago. It works for me, anyway!

Ian Cleary

ianEditorial: I only write about social media tools and technology and I get ideas from a variety of sources including tweets, subscribers that ask me questions, reading other blog posts and monitoring keywords related to social media tools and technology. I also often get an idea when I’m in the car or working out in the gym so I jot it down or create a task.

All content ideas goes into an editorial calendar called Divvyhq. There’s a place to park ideas and a place for scheduled content. Since using an editorial calendar I’ve got more consistent with my blogging and I’m not stuck for new content ideas because I’m always adding new ideas.

Writing: I go to Divvyhq and pick a post off my list or come up with a new topic basic on a combination of a couple of items on the list.

I then do some initial keyword research using Google keyword tool and SEOMoz to see if there are useful keywords I can target for the blog post.

I write an initial headline which I’ll always tweak a few times before publishing. I try to grab attention with my opening line and then outline what the angle of the story is. If I have some research or a quote to use I’ll add it in straight after this. I’ll then write the body of the post and finish off with what I want the reader to remember with a call to action to put in a comment!

When the first part of the post is written I’ll go to photopin and find some images to add to the post and then I’ll optimize the content for search engines.

When I post the content I schedule it as I have set days for publishing. When it is published it automatically goes out twitter using dlvr.it. but then I’ll manually post the content on a variety of platforms such as LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Inbound.org and Scoop.it. I also reach out to relevant audiences that might be interested in the post to encourage them to come back and read it. When I get comments I try to respond immediately to them.

So, since you made it this far I wonder if you might add your process?

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