An inside view of the blogging process

Mitch Joel recently threw down the the gauntlet and challenged a number of bloggers to blog about how they blog (does that make sense?) I highly recommend you read his original article called “Watching me Blog.”  I only caution you about trying to match Mitch’s pace. There is Mitch, and then there is the rest of us!

Here is an insight into my typical blogging process:

THE BIRTH OF A BLOG POST

I am constantly bombarded with ideas so collecting inspiration for topics is a continuous process.  I may have an idea from something I see on TV, something I read, or a question from a student in class.  The trick is to have the discipline to capture these ideas when they occur. As soon as I can, I record these topics as a headline in WordPress, nothing more. That way, when it is time to blog, I have a wide selection of potential topics.

I currently have about 70 ideas in the hopper. Some of them will never see the light of day. Maybe some of them will be combined or trashed. Some of them you will see this week!

TIME TO WRITE

I usually do all of my blogging for the week in about a 3-4 hour period on a weekend morning. It has to be quiet with no distractions.  In this period my goal is to write at least two blog posts for the upcoming week. Usually I can write though an idea quickly but sometimes it takes adding and massaging over a couple of weeks to flesh out a big new idea.

During this quiet time I JUST WRITE.  I don’t necessarily spend a lot of time trying to be perfect right off the bat. Editing and refining can come later.

I also try to write ahead if I can so I have a few completed posts in case something happens and I can’t blog for some personal reason. I have about 10 posts in reserve. I rarely write during the week unless there is a short-term topical opportunity.

FINAL FLOURISHES

On Sunday night I’ll figure out what posts I’m going to publish for the week. I’ll take a last look at these pieces, do a final edit, and then “decorate” them with illustrations or graphics as needed.  I don’t often get feedback on the funny illustrations I come up with, but in my mind this is one of the fun reasons to come to the {grow} blog and it is a creative challenge for me to come up with something that will make you snicker.  My rule is that if I can’t execute an illustration idea in 10 minutes, I move on to something else. I have to be very disciplined about the time I spend on blogging.

At this point I’ll also spend some more time on the headline. Headlines are so important — more important than the actual blog copy because if you don’t grab your reader’s attention, they’ll never even get to the copy.  I find headlines very difficult to write. They must be accurate, descriptive, interesting and most of all, “tweetable!”  You have to make your posts easy to share!

PUBLISH

I have never posted an article that I have been completely happy with, and many times I’m a little nervous about what the reaction might be. Ultimately it takes courage to be an effective blogger, to put yourself out there, to be confident enough to be imperfect, and to take your licks.

My decision on what to publish is often determined by my work schedule. If I think a post will generate a lot of comments, I won’t publish that on a day that I can’t pay attention to the comment section. I post from one of the amazing {grow} contributing columnists on Wednesdays and a cartoon on Friday so I know I will have at least those days completely free to do client work.

COMMENTS

The best part of the blog is the community commentary. Here is my philosophy on comments:

  • Comments are an opportunity to celebrate the people in your community.
  • When people offer you a gift of their precious time to provide a comment, it only makes sense to give them a gift back and at least say “thank you.”  I try to acknowledge most comments.
  • Comments build community.  This is where you create meaningful connections. I have written a lot about power and influence on the social web. In my estimation, the blog comment section is where the action is (and ironically it is not considered in a Klout score!).
  • If you put yourself out there, you’re not going to connect with every person, every time, even in a community of well-intentioned professionals.  Don’t be thrown off-center by criticism. It’s a sign that you took risks. Take the high rode, stay positive.
Well, there you have it.  As I wrote this, I was struck by how radically different my process is from Mitch’s.  What about you? What is the most important part of your process?  How does your process differ from mine?
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  • I think I like the infographic the most 🙂

  • First of all, the graphic made me LOL! I loved Mitch’s post, and I love the fact that you heeded the call. I think a compilation of your stories would make an awesome little book, winkwink.

    I don’t have a standard blogging process. I write when the muse awakens the words from within me, and the thoughts and words simply flow. But as I take my site in a slightly different direction, I know that adding some structure to the process can only help. I’ve been looking a lot at Headlines, and realize their importance: something I’ve probably not done well. But the writing itself, when the spirit moves me, usually flows. Very little editing. Posting with pleasure.

    Thanks for taking up Mitch’s challenge. It would be great to see a compilation;) Cheers! Kaarina

  • I actually wrote about my process a couple of years ago: 
    http://occamsrazr.com/2010/05/13/the-chickens-guide-to-writing-a-better-blog-post/

  • Mark, I think the correct link for Mitch’s Watching me blog would be http://www.twistimage.com/blog/archives/watching-me-blog/. 

    Like you, i usually write down all my titles first and below it, I will write a couple of stuff I thought. Ideas, personal story, etc.

    Usually I’ll write them on evernote and pages on mac. Whenever I have time, I’ll look at them and write them. 
    I usually write them at 1-5 in the morning because that is when my house is really quiet. Of course there is a longer process 😀 

  • Hi Mark, loved to read about your blogging process and the way you manage your time! By the way, the URL to Mitch’s original article links to another article. 

  • I’m now inspired to write my own blogging process post. To Evernote! See, we already differ on how we keep track of ideas. 🙂

  • This is a fantastic idea. I am glad you took up the challenge. I know personally I enjoy writing in the wee hours after 11 pm to the early am. I have always been a night owl, and that late night quietness really helps me concentrate. 

  • Discipline is definitely the key.  Discipline to get your ideas down when they’re happening, and the discipline with time.  Blog preparation time can get away from one if there isn’t any structure as you’ve expressed above.  The discipline to not get distracted is probably a challenge for most as well.  Blogging is hard. 

  • Mark,

    I sincerely agree that the best part of Blogging is the comments.

    I write a post and just wait for comments to come.  Comments are the fun part.  The interaction, the questions, the advice… I learn so much from the people that comment on my blog.

    Thanks!!

    Ryan H.

  • Anonymous

    It’s very interesting to read someone else’s process. Thank you for sharing!! I’ve been trying to find a process that works for me. It seems I can only handle one idea at a time, so I never write more than one post in one day. I don’t have a backlog, but I need one…. Something in working on. I’ve had several of my most popular posts written at 1AM. Unfortunately, bring a night person isn’t good for my family or my clients.

    Thanks for sharing your process, it has made me think about improving my own. 🙂

  • Thank you Mark for challenging me to share my “years of blogging” process.  My topical ideas, and inspiration come from my personal, and professional experiences, reading, and TV. 

    My tendency is to jot my ideas down on a “post-it,” and place them in a box.  Eventually this collection is moved to a scrapbook, and then placed on Blogger, and on WordPress to be fleshed out, and shared. 

    You are all invited, and welcome to read, review, and comment on them here… http://www.YourStressMatters.blogspot.com and here
    http://www.WhatMakesYourHeartSing.wordpress.com
      

  • Best part about this:  “I only caution you about trying to match @mitchjoel:disqus  ‘s pace. There is Mitch, and then there is the rest of us!” I’d replace/augment Mitch with you, Mark, or @Jaybaer:twitter or @Jasonfalls:twitter or any number of bloggers I read religiously. My process is fairly different, and guaranteed to relegate you to relative obscurity, but I wrote mine up here a while ago: http://brandsavant.com/rationing/   

    Big thing for me is that I don’t hoard ideas. I rarely write posts ahead of time. Typically when I post something the ink isn’t even dry on the thought. Sometimes that means I post 3 times in a week; sometimes once in two weeks. This makes my blog nearly traffic resistant, but that is all about my choices and priorities, and not the “rulebook,” I suppose. I also tend to edit myself as I write – instead of getting something rough down and then revisiting it later, I edit at the sentence level as I go. Given the length of some of my posts, you might quibble with that, too. But here’s the thing: that’s how I write. Trying to make my blog writing different from my report/client writing (and I tried that once) simply meant I didn’t blog very much.

    What helped me the most, when I finally figured it out, was this: I don’t get paid on traffic. I don’t care if a post is read by 10 people, because chances are those ten people really needed that post, and  any one of them could be a potential client. Traffic does not put food on my family. All that leads to my one and only hard-and-fast rule about my own blog. I do not publish things that I am not proud of. That means I have posts under the bed that will never see the light of day, and it also means that I might wait a week or two before writing something, but again that’s about my choices and priorities and no one else’s. And that’s what blogging is all about, to me.

  • Anonymous

    This is great! Thanks for taking up the task of giving us an inside view. As a new blogger, this is encouraging and helpful!

  • Yeah, you would! : ) 

  • Great idea Kaarina! And it’s great to see you in the comment section! 

  • Excellent piece (I would expect nothing less!)

  • Thanks for the correction! @cspenn also wrote a post in this series and follows a similar process Aaron! Thanks! 

  • Corrected! Thanks! 

  • Look forward to seeing that Erin! 

  • The morning works best for me. I’ma zombie after 10 pm : ) 

  • You just need to have the courage sometimes to “publish” even when it’s not perfect!

  • For me, it’s like Christmas every day. And I never know what to expect! : ) 

  • Glad this helped Rachel. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Thanks for sharing Dr. Rae.

  • This idea about traffic is incredibly important Tom. I have tried to emphasize that over and over. I also like your idea of publishing when it happens.  I roughly do that too. I would say at least 90% of the posts I publish were written that week, usually within a day or so.

    I admire your editing process. My first drafts are usually terrible. Looks like i was drunk or something. Which I wasn’t, in case you were wondering 

    Thanks for the fantastic comment Tom! 

  • You definitely never know what you expect!

  • Thanks for the great advice Mark and thanks to Mitch for the challenge that prompted you to write the article.

    I need to develop a process. I like your ideas about using quiet time on the weekend to write posts for the following week. Keeping an active file of ideas to write about is something I try to do but the most I have at any given time is two or three.

    Blogging is similar to excercise. It takes a commitment and you always feel better after getting it done. Your advice today has inspired me to renew my commitment to the two blogs our agency now publishes. As for the excercise, did I tell you I was now the Mayor of Fitness 19???

  • My pleasure Mark!  By now, I’m sure you must know… you inspire me 😉 ~Rae

  • Glad it was helpful.

  • Very interesting analogy. I think you are right on target here Mr. Fitness!

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  • Hi Mark, 

    Thanks for sharing your process. Wow, with the number of posts you do, just 3 to 4 hours week? Seriously, that highlights an area I need to work on, a post is definitely more than an hour for me.

    Like others, I capture ideas in Evernote, either as a headline and a couple thoughts about it (so I can remember what my headline meant!) or in a running note that is a gathering point for ideas. I like this actually because it lets me read through all of them at once, and I often see connections between multiple ideas I’ve jotted down over the month.

    My writing is probably different than most. I take public transit and use my commute time (particularly the morning) to draft posts. Probably 90% of my posts are partially drafted on my mobile and well more than half are completely written (even into second round) on my mobile. Not being able to see the full post on the screen probably contributes to my posts being longer than they should… 

    Some weeks I can’t find new ideas, and simply work through ones that are in my queue and want to get to. Other weeks, I have an inspiration every time I turn around it seems, and come out of the week with 10 or 15 new ideas.

    Thanks for sharing your process, as a regular reader it is great to get a bit more insight into how it comes together!

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  • I love the graphic! It articulated my sentiments exactly! 😉

  • Anonymous

    Great post!

  • Carmen

    I appreciate this post as an infant blogger…great ideas to consider as I find my way.  Many thanks! Carmen

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  • I do hoard ideas, mostly because they come at me so fast and furious I can’t write about them all simultaneously. Most of my posts are written spontaneously however, in reaction to something I just read or witnessed. Sometimes I try to create a content calendar to give a theme to a series of posts. This helps focus me, and actually lets me use some of my hoarded posts. I often write a piece of a post; then decide it’s not sufficiently deep and will begin collecting more content until I’m ready to flesh it out. I’ve also committed to posting 3x/week, so that schedule keeps me going as well. And I love getting comments and always respond to them when I do. Mostly, however, I write for content and just enjoy sharing things I find interestingly, important and intriguing.

  • I would say on AVERAGE a post is probably an hour. But the one injustbwrote on Tyne three social media careers took just 20 min. Others take much longer — maybe I will spend parts oseveral days on them. But I do tend to write quickly! I appreciate having you as a reader Eric!

  • A content calendar has never worked for me. Ive tried it a few times and better ideas kept overriding the schedule! It’s more like conducting an orchestra to me. I’m the conductor trying to tease out the right notes at the right time in some sort of rhythm!

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  • Like everyone said, the graphic was awesome. 

    I sketch out a list of headlines in a spreadsheet, trying to think through the key fascinations and how this will appeal to my target audience. 

    Then I schedule time for writing during the week. I’d like to write all in one go but I don’t seem to manage that. Maybe I should try harder. 

    I try and look for inspiration as I’m out and about but sometimes I just go back to the old adage of: “What does my reader need to know” and then work from there. 

    Right now, however, I’m struggling with writer’s block. A rare thing for me but I think it’s just a product of juggling so many things my head is spinning so fast I can’t concentrate on writing. 

    @mitchjoel:disqus is an inspiration. 

  • Ok. I’m going to write a post about how I get over writer’s block just for you! Thanks for sharing your process Jon!

  • Awesome !

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  • Mark, I really appreciate you (and the other writers noted in the related posts) sharing your processes. There have been times when I’ve wondered, “Am I doing this right?” because the view from the outside led me to conclude that thinking, researching, and communicating useful ideas was quick or easy for some other writers. While I’m sure a few have natural gifts, its likely that most of us experience a detour, a block, or a challenge in our blogging. And honestly, the fact that on occasion you’re concerned how readers might react to a post is both humbling and reassuring. If it were possible to hold equal amounts of confidence and doubt about writing, my hands would often be full.

    A final note – your point about writing discipline is another important one for me, and an area I often fail myself. I’ve yet to adequately resolve how to consistently write for my own blog while contributing pieces to other outlets on schedule. Again, thank you for not only outlining the mechanics of your model, but the intangibles of producing creative work products.@heatherrast:twitter 

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  • I’ve always envied people who can get their writing done all at once. Maybe it’s because I’m inherently a procrastinator, but I just can’t make myself sit down and write on a weekend morning. I’m jealous.

  • There once was a time when I post-dated a week’s worth of articles (or more). That was a while ago. Lately I’m adding new stuff maybe once or twice a week. It’s not that I’m uninspired to write anything but I’d rather write stuff that matters than stuff that I can write in minutes. Quality over quantity, you know?

  • Lovely – It’s good to hear you, Mitch Joel, Chris Brogan, Jay Baer, etc, all talk about how imperfect you feel your posts are.

    “I have never posted an article that I have been completely happy with”

    I definitely have that fear (I’ll try not to let it sideline me anymore).

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  • Thanks for offering an insight into how you blog. As part of my
    masters course in Public Communications Management we have been asked to blog
    about convergent/digital/social media (however you prefer to define
    it) and its relationship with public communications. I have really enjoyed it
    and am trying to develop my own writing process and style. As you mention,
    reading more established blogs such as yours can leave me feeling rather
    inadequate but I also find it very inspiring to analyse other blogger’s
    creativity. I also find headlines extremely difficult to write and I still
    haven’t posted a comment that I am satisfied with. Perhaps I never will.

     

    Your post and my own limited experience of blogging have left me
    with the lasting impression that it is a continuous process which requires a high
    level of discipline, constant reading and a commitment to your readers. I am
    especially interested in your ethos on commenting. I simply don’t know how you
    find the time!! However, as you say, taking the time to reply to comments and
    comment on other people’s work allows you to build up a community which is
    worth the time and effort you spend creating it. While I might not blog about
    public communications forever I hope to find an area that I can blog about long
    into the future. 

  • Mark, I enjoyed reading about your blogging process but the part I’m most interested in is how you promote your blog post, which you didn’t say anything about (maybe you don’t). I was shocked that you do all your blog writing in a 3-4 hour period on the weekends. How is that possible? Maybe I’m a slow writer. LOL  Great post!

  • Heather you bring up two extremely great points here. I’ve often said that the biggest obstacle to blogging success is not ideas or time but confidence.  Yes, it can be truly be scary!  But I would also say that there are big rewards for big risks. People really do respond to fresh and bold ideas.

    Your other point about handling mulitple roles is something I experienced early on and, like you, my own blog suffered. I can be great in one place or “OK” in a number of places. I was blogging for other companies and doing guest posts on top of my own blog and everything was probably suffering a little. I thin in 2010 I did something like 40 guest posts. My strategy was never to promote myself. I did because people asked me too. I put a moratorium on it in 2011 and simply told people that I was no longer doing guest posts because I had to concentrate on writing the book.  But my blog became much stronger in the process!

    Thanks for you great comment!

  • I can get pretty focused when I work!  I get in a zone when I write so I like to try to find an undisturbed chunk of time and for me, that is early Sunday morning. I can usually do two posts before church!  I find that if I don;t have the blog in fairly good shape by the end of the weekend it just kind of nags at me all week. The week gets so busy.  Thanks Gini! 

  • I absolutley agree Ari.  The problem is I have so many ideas!  I hvae to limit my writing time because I would blog all day long if I had the time. Ideas are flying at me all the time. I think there is a talent in having a “nose for news” and combining ideas in new ways to create something different.  But I never put something out there that I know is crap. Thanks for sharing your wisdom today friend.

  • If you wait to push “publish” you’ll be paralyzed forever I think. You definitely have to live with “it’s good enough” to be a successful blogger!

  • This is an extremely wise and inspiring comment Clare. Ironically, my response is six days late!  But in part, that kind of answers your question. I make the community a priority but I also have a business to run, classes to teach and a family. So i do get to it when I can, even if it is 1 a.m. sometimes.

    The vision that you express is really inspiring. You have the right idea about what it takes. Patience, tenacity, commitment.  I really think you have what it takes to do well and I hope we can stay connected so I can hear about your progress.

  • I was a journalism major so learned how to crank out copy on a tight deadline. I think this was a wonderful field of study in many ways and it has served me well for a long time. I have two graduate degrees but I still use those skills aftre all these years.

    Historically, I have done a TERRIBLE job marketing my blog, my books, myself and my business. It’s like the shoemaker who has children without shoes. i don’t have time to do it and it is very uncomfortable for me to promote myself. 

    Early on, I did bumble around and find a few things that work. It’s like any other kind of marketing — go where the people are and offer somethign that is helpful to them. So I might offer a blog link in response to a LinkedIn question. I might write a post to answer a question from a reader or student. I certainly promoted the blogs of my loyal readers in a helpful way and they did the same for me.

    Today the only promotion I do is to post each article i write to Twitter and Facebook.  Thank goodness I have found some great friends and loyal readers to carry the day because I have done a horrible job promoting anything.  Of course, that might also be a secret to success because when people arrive at {grow} they know I’m not going to be selling them stuff. : ) 

  • Anonymous

     Perhaps your weakness is your strength!  🙂

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  • Thanks – That’s great advice. I’m getting better at it. Starting….. NOW!

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  • NIschala
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  • Preston Reed

    Thanks for sharing your blogging process, Mark. Makes me want to get more disciplined and consistent with mine.

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