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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?

Tuesday Guest Stars

Here are your guest contributors for Tuesday’s edition of the Duct Tape Marketing Small Business Week iPad Giveaway.

Read each of the five posts that follow and click our entry form link to match the guest star with their post.

Brian Halligan

Brian Halligan is CEO & Co-Founder of HubSpot, a marketing software company he co-founded four years ago to help businesses transform the way they market their products by “getting found” on the internet.  He is author of two books: Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead and Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs.

Ann Handley

Ann is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, which provides strategic and tactical marketing know-how for marketing and business professionals through a full range of online media. She writes for the MarketingProfs Daily Fix and is also a contributor to The Huffington Post. She is the co-author of the best selling book – Content Rules

Joe Pulizzi

Joe writes one of most popular content marketing blogs in the world. He is the co-author of Get Content Get Customers. Joe Speaks to large and small groups on marketing, publishing, social media, new journalism, personal branding and why he always wears orange. He is also the founder of Junta42, the Content Marketing Institute, SocialTract and a few others in the works.

Brian Clark

Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media.  Brian built three successful offline businesses using online marketing techniques before switching to a producer model that involves building, monetizing, and occasionally selling online media properties. With Copyblogger Media, Brian seeks to empower online writers and content producers to command attention, create engagement, and influence people as powerful players in the new media revolution.

Janine Popick

Janine Popick is the CEO and co-founder of VerticalResponse (Inc. 5000 2006-2010), a leading self-service direct marketing provider to over 100,000 small businesses. Janine is VerticalResponse’s CEB (Chief Executive Blogger).   She is a columnist for Inc.com “Women in Business” and has been published in DM News as well featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, ClickZ, and B2B Magazine.

Okay, I’m Creating Content How Do I Get Someone to Read It 1

This post is one in a series of five guest posts authored by the super star bloggers pictured below. As part of a celebration of National Small Business Week we are asking readers to match all five guests posts up with the contributing blogger to be entered for a chance to win an iPad2. Read all five posts in today’s series and come back each day this week for five new posts in this great educational series and another chance to win.

Brian Halligan

Brian Halligan is CEO & Co-Founder of HubSpot, a marketing software company he co-founded four years ago to help businesses transform the way they market their products by “getting found” on the internet. He is author of two books: Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead and Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs.

Okay, I’m Creating Content How Do I Get Someone to Read It 1

Let’s take a step back. First and foremost, is this content you’re creating remarkable? Does it offer something valuable? The first step toward getting eyeballs to view your content is to appeal to your target audience’s wants and needs. Are you delivering your points in an interesting way that makes it enjoyable to read/watch/listen to? You can create content day-in and day-out, but if it’s no good, people won’t be coming back to you for more.

Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s take a second look at the content you’re creating. Is it optimized for search engines? Did you use the right keywords that will draw in the types of readers you’re hoping to attract? If someone conducted a search in Google using a keyword by which you want to get found, would that person come across your content? Remember: the key to making your content visible in search engines is optimizing it.

Okay, so now you’ve got remarkable content that’s been well optimized to gain some traction in search engines. Are you promoting it? How are you promoting it? Be sure to share links to your content in social media. “But I don’t have any followers,” you say? Start building a following so your content has the potential to reach as many readers as possible. Add social media sharing buttons to your blog articles so people who read and like your content can easily share it with their followers. The great thing about social media is that your content is not only limited to the eyes of your followers, but can also reach the eyes of others’ followers.

Once you’ve got all that down, keep on creating! Regular content creation is the basis for any successful inbound marketing program. If you want to continue to get found online, you need to generate a constant flow of fresh, remarkable content. The good news is: inbound marketing success is relative to the size of your brain, not the size of your wallet, so the possibilities are endless!

Read the rest of today’s mystery posts here

Okay, I’m Creating Content How Do I Get Someone to Read It 2

This post is one in a series of five guest posts authored by the super star bloggers pictured below. As part of a celebration of National Small Business Week we are asking readers to match all five guests posts up with the contributing blogger to be entered for a chance to win an iPad2. Read all five posts in today’s series and come back each day this week for five new posts in this great educational series and another chance to win.

Janine Popick

Janine Popick is the CEO and co-founder of VerticalResponse (Inc. 5000 2006-2010), a leading self-service direct marketing provider to over 100,000 small businesses. Janine is VerticalResponse’s CEB (Chief Executive Blogger). She is a columnist for Inc.com “Women in Business” and has been published in DM News as well featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, ClickZ, and B2B Magazine.

Okay, I’m Creating Content How Do I Get Someone to Read It 2

We say it all the time, if you don’t have something interesting to say or to sell, who the f is gonna read or buy it? For a blog, lots of comments means someone is reading and engaged; for an email, clicks means someone is interested. The more clicks and comments the better. So how do you get people engaged?

Make It Good

Here’s what makes great content:

  • Humorous stuff
  • Behind the scenes stories
  • Controversial, political & religious
  • New happenings
  • Tips & tricks, hints, lists, how-tos
  • Reviews

That’s the type of content that can draw readers in and engage them, especially if it’s relevant.

Plus, snappy headlines or email subject lines are a must! And don’t make your content too long, don’t use great big paragraphs, have easy to read fonts and bullets are key. Also, break up thoughts and subjects with subheads so your reader can scan.  This goes for anything online!

Get People TO Your Content

If you’re writing a great email newsletter and you’ve lured them in with your snappy subject line, good for you! We’ve had success when we give a “taste” of the content in the newsletter, then drive them to a site or blog for the rest of the story. This way you potentially get them to look at other content you’ve written as well.

When you create your content whether it’s in an email, blog or website, let the world know! Publish it to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And submit it to StumbleUpon and Digg at the very least.

One more thing, include the keywords that you optimize your site for. When potential readers are using search engines, you’re going to want your content as high in the rankings as possible.

Get Readers to Know YOU

The first thing I do when I get to a blog is research who the writer is. I want to know that the person behind the words has credibility and is passionate about what they write. So make sure you publish your bio somewhere on your site so your readers get to know you.

Another great way to get people to know you is to comment on other blogs.  Not only will your comment and your information be displayed, but the blogger you’re commenting on may end up following and commenting on your blog too. And if you like something you see on Twitter follow them and retweet (RT) their content. If you find content on Facebook interesting, click the Like link.

Finally, write the way you speak. Your readers want to read what you have to say so just say it and let your personality shine through!

Read the rest of today’s mystery posts here

Okay, I’m Creating Content How Do I Get Someone to Read it 3

This post is one in a series of five guest posts authored by the super star bloggers pictured below. As part of a celebration of National Small Business Week we are asking readers to match all five guests posts up with the contributing blogger to be entered for a chance to win an iPad2. Read all five posts in today’s series and come back each day this week for five new posts in this great educational series and another chance to win.

Brian Clark

Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Brian built three successful offline businesses using online marketing techniques before switching to a producer model that involves building, monetizing, and occasionally selling online media properties. With Copyblogger Media, Brian seeks to empower online writers and content producers to command attention, create engagement, and influence people as powerful players in the new media revolution.

Okay, I’m Creating Content How Do I Get Someone to Read It 3

Ever heard the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?”

Well, when it comes to creating effective online content, it’s not what you know, it’s what you know that you can teach others.

After that, it’s right back to who you know, same as always.

People Distribute Content

If you’re creating online content, you’ve got to get the word out about it for people to share it far and wide with others. And that process starts with good old-fashioned relationships.

It’s not called social media for nothing. Beyond the creation of content itself, online content distribution begins with key relationships with others in your subject matter arena.

It’s easier to establish these relationships than ever, thanks to social networks. And since social networks are where content sharing happens, it makes sense to begin making those relationships early on.

Help to be Helped

The key is to follow and be useful to people who are also producing content in your niche. Share their content and provide meaningful comments on their blog posts.

Your next step might be to offer to guest post for them, which provides them with vital content and provides you with exposure to their audience. You’ve now just gone from anonymous to a contributor with access – and that’s the beginning of a real world relationship that drives the virtual world as well.

Don’t view those who create content on the same topic as competitors. This is zero-sum thinking that usually has very little application in the wide-open marketplace of online ideas.

Complement, Don’t Compete

Think of your work as a complement to the content others create. You won’t be seen as a subject matter authority or a thought leader in your industry if you jealously guard your ideas from the so-called competition.

Be generous with your ideas and the relationships you form. You’ll find that your content spreads much farther and wider than it would otherwise.

And that’s the idea, right?

Okay, I’m Creating Content How Do I Get Someone to Read it 4

This post is one in a series of five guest posts authored by the super star bloggers pictured below. As part of a celebration of National Small Business Week we are asking readers to match all five guests posts up with the contributing blogger to be entered for a chance to win an iPad2. Read all five posts in today’s series and come back each day this week for five new posts in this great educational series and another chance to win.

Joe Pulizzi

Joe writes one of most popular content marketing blogs in the world. He is the co-author of Get Content Get Customers. Joe Speaks to large and small groups on marketing, publishing, social media, new journalism, personal branding and why he always wears orange. He is also the founder of Junta42, the Content Marketing Institute, SocialTract and a few others in the works.

Okay, I’m Creating Content How Do I Get Someone to Read It 4

Yes, it’s true.  All small businesses create content.  Nine in 10 small businesses develop content to drive marketing goals.

But since less than 50% of SMBs feel satisfied with their content marketing efforts, obviously there is a major disconnect.
Here are 10 reasons that may be true for you, and what you need to do about it.
1.          Lack of Content Goals. What’s the behavior you want to see as a result of the content you are creating?
2.          Your Content is about Everything. You have no niche. You create content on the entire industry.  What can you be the leading expert in? Focus.
3.        The Content is about YOU YOU YOU. Remember, your customers don’t care about you. Focus on your customers’ pain points and create content around that.
4.         Good Enough is not Good Enough. Your content is competing with everyone and everything, even traditional media companies.  Make your content unique, interesting, fun (if possible), multichannel and execute the crap out of it.
5.          Lack of a Content Calendar. Stop thinking from a campaign mentality. Content for your customers is a promise. Execute a content marketing editorial calendar.
6.          Not Leveraging Employees. Your employees are your content assets. Find the 10% of employees that are content creators and nurture that.
7.          People will Magically Engage in your Content. Your content isn’t good enough that the magic content fairies will find it and spread it around the internet. Find out where your customers are on the web and be active in those communities.
8.        Your Content Has No Chief Content Officer. Look at the great media brands like the Wall Street Journal. All of them have a chief editor that owns the content. Find your chief editor.
9.       No Content Experience. Most brands don’t, so get over it. FIX: Hire a journalist.
10.     You Don’t Have Support. Those brands that don’t have internal support for content marketing are 300% more likely to stink at content marketing. Do the previous nine steps and, as Matt Heinz says, “Don’t invent new metrics. Track more but report less. Focus on behaviors.”

Read the rest of today’s mystery posts here

Okay, I’m Creating Content How Do I Get Someone to Read it 5

This post is one in a series of five guest posts authored by the super star bloggers pictured below. As part of a celebration of National Small Business Week we are asking readers to match all five guests posts up with the contributing blogger to be entered for a chance to win an iPad2. Read all five posts in today’s series and come back each day this week for five new posts in this great educational series and another chance to win.

Ann Handley

Ann is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, which provides strategic and tactical marketing know-how for marketing and business professionals through a full range of online media. She writes for the MarketingProfs Daily Fix and is also a contributor to The Huffington Post. She is the co-author of the best selling book – Content Rules

Okay, I’m Creating Content How Do I Get Someone to Read It 5

So you’ve done it: You’ve taken the plunge and launched a blog, or a YouTube channel, a regular radio show. You’re elated and energized; your boss is thrilled! This is really going to drive people to your door! You imagine yourself winning the employee of the year award; your colleagues will leave the best parking spot open for you just out of sheer gratitude for all you’ve done for the business!

But pretty soon reality sets in: Creating content is hard work. Finding great stories is like working the salt mines with a plastic spork and a beach pail; if your blog was a city, it would be a eerily quiet place with tumbleweeds blowing along vacant, dusty streets. Why doesn’t your blog have any comments?

My first question is this: Are you sure you’re producing the right kind of content?

The inherent tension is marketing is that businesses always want to talk about their products or services. Meanwhile, your customers only want to hear what their products or services will do for them. That seems like a simple idea, right? A no-brainer? Except most businesses are terrible at really grokking what that means: Share a resource or solve a problem for your customers, help them do their jobs better; don’t just talk about your stuff.

In other words, good content doesn’t try to sell. Rather, it creates value for your customers (or would-be customers) by positioning you as a reliable and valuable source of information. In other words, your content shares a resource, solves a problem, helps your customers do their jobs better, improves their lives, or makes them smarter, wittier, better-looking, taller, better-networked, cooler, more enlightened, and with better backhands, tighter asses, and cuter kids. In other words, it’s high value to your customers, in whatever way resonates best with them.

American Express does this really well with its OPEN Forum (openforum.com) web site. OPEN Forum is a resource for small business owners, and the articles and videos and ideas there transcend American Express specifically. But it positions Amex as a trusted source. American Express sees the value of putting Content and Context before Selling.

So does Citrix: It’s Workshifting.com blog is a place where “workshifters,” or people who work outside of a traditional offices, can share ideas and just hang out. Citrix sells technology, but its content creates a resource and shares ideas with people who work in their jammies. It focuses on how people use the technology, right? Not the technology itself.

So ask this question first: Are you sure you’re producing the right kind of content? Or are you capable of doing better?

The Content Inspiration and Creation Rules

Marketing podcast with Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman (Click to play or right click and “Save As” to download – Subscribe now via iTunes or subscribe via other RSS device (Google Listen)

Ann HandleyCC ChapmanThe need to produce lots of educational content is a given these days – I’ve written about both how to find inspiration and how to create a systematic approach to content generation in recent posts.

I think, perhaps, most people get this idea so the focus is turning squarely on practical ways to get this done. For this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast I visit with Marketing Profs Chief Content Officer, Ann Handley and Internet Marketing Expert and Founder of Digital Dads, C.C. Chapman about their new book Content Rules.

The title of the book has an obvious double meaning – as in these are the rules and dude, content ruuuules (think Wayne and Garth) – and it’s one of the first books that really does lay out the path for how, when and why to produce content that will help you achieve your marketing objectives in this information crazed world we find ourselves living.

And since this is a book and podcast about content I thought I would share a list of other content about the book:

You can listen to the show by subscribing the feed in iTunes or a variety of other free services such as Google Listen (Use this RSS feed) or you can buy the Duct Tape Marketing iPhone app. (iTunes link – Cost is $2.99) or Android app and listen to the show as well as about ten past shows on your phone.