How I totally screwed up my blogging strategy


A few weeks ago, I sat down to prepare for the upcoming week’s blog schedule and I became paralyzed.  For the first time in four years, I seemingly had nothing to write about.

I knew if there ever came a time when I had to “force” content onto {grow} it was a sign that I needed to stop blogging so this was a bad sign.  It is quite sickening to reach a point where the ideas stop.

But after I thought about the situation, I realized that in fact I had not run out of ideas.  I simply had screwed up my tried-and-true system to generate ideas and was paying the price for it. Here’s what happened …

The system

Ideas come at us all the time, every day.  It could be an article we read, a speech we attend, or something we hear on the news. Being a good blogger means always being alert to these ideas — and most important — capturing them. For me, that means writing them down wherever I am and then simply writing the headline for the idea in WordPress as soon as I can.

For example, recently  I had a wonderful chat over breakfast at a cafe in Brooklyn with my friend Pavel Konoplenko. Pavel and I really had the ideas flying and many of them would have made a wonderful subject for a blog post.  As our conversation progressed, I literally wrote the ideas down on the back of the receipt for breakfast and tucked it in my wallet. When I got to a computer, I recorded the ideas in WordPress for future development.

During my dry spell, I realized that I had swerved away from my system.  For some reason, I was either too busy, too lazy, or both and ignored my discipline of recording ideas.

Luckily, I had planned for the day when something went wrong and was able to pull from a stable of extra blog posts I had prepared for an emergency. So the quality on {grow} never suffered even though I was temporarily “empty.” Another lesson — have a back-up plan!

Getting back on track

Once I realized what I had done, it was fairly easy to get back on track.  Simply by paying attention to the world around me — and recording my ideas — I was able to quickly re-fill the pipeline.

For example, I read a post about Facebook that I completely disagreed with.  I simply copied the link to the post, pasted it into a new blog post and wrote the headline “Comment on this?” Will it turn into a post? Who knows? But at least it is an option so I won’t be facing a blank slate when it’s time to blog.

Now when I settle into my usual quiet blogging time (you do have a quiet blogging time don’t you?) I don’t have to remember that story and try to find it on the web again. It’s sitting right there for me as a great option for a blog post for the upcoming week.

Another example — I was scanning my Google Analytics and saw an unusual keyword phrase that people had used to find my blog. It seemed like an excellent idea for post, so I immediately recorded in it the queue for future consideration.

Think about it.  Even if you come across just one idea every day, by the time you sit down to blog, you have at least seven potential post concepts to choose from.

This system really works for me and I found out the hard way that when I’m not disciplined about it, I hit a wall!

What works for you?  How do you keep the blog idea pipeline open?

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  • Thank you for the mention! Incredibly honored.

    This past year, I have really realized the importance of capturing ideas as they come. (This is where Evernote comes in astonishingly handy). I’ll write down the gist of the idea, how I got there, and where it led, so I’d be able to re-trace my mental path. After all, my thoughts usually branch out quite quickly as I jump from one related idea to the next. That way one note becomes a web of great seeds. Not only is it great for creating content and ideas, but also as a simple psychological outlet. After all, ideas constantly bubbling in my head tend to stress me out unless I can put them somewhere safe.

    That being said, I have also learned this year to not feel guilty about letting go of ideas. My constant recording of ideas has shown me that I capable of creating great ideas without forcing anything. So if my phone is ever dead, and I have no other way to record the idea, I embrace the ephemeral idea, and let it swirl in my head. Something akin to enjoying the idea for the idea’s sake.

    There’s something romantic about having a good idea that I undoubtedly will forget. Besides, you never know if that idea returns as suddenly as it first came, except this time stronger and deeper.

    If I don’t get content out of it, so be it. It gives me confidence to pretend I’m a deep idea man, which in turn inspires me to have other wonderful ideas. That’s why your system works so well; you trust it, you know it works, and you can just let your mind roam capturing great ideas.

    I’m glad to hear you were able to get back on track, and humbled that I was in some way able to help inspire you.

  • Mark, I’m not disciplined at all when it comes to blogging. Shame on me. I know there’s a myriad of benefits (less stress, for one!) of maintaining a blogging calendar. To my credit, however, I update my “ideas” file on a regular basis. I currently have approximately 200 potential blog post titles on file. So I’m a blogger who may conceivably never run out of ideas but I need to get my shizzle together and post more consistently.
    Happy 2013 and Happy Blogging!

  • Allen Roberts

    I am in the middle of the same dilemma.

    Posting 4 times a week over the last 5 years or so, I had a break over Christmas, catch a breath, but 2013 comes and Blam! nothing!.

    All my ideas, links, interesting stuff is stored in One-note, and I cannot get my brain around the assortment, whereas last year, it was relatively easy, the posts just emerged.

    Hope it changes as it has for you, my 2013 record of 2 posts, only one of which was any good (according to those who count, readers) is crap.


  • Very helpful article, it helps the creative process flow rather than be forced!

  • Great topic! I have a blogging notebook where i write ideas, titles, and phrases in. Not like clockwork, but about once a quarter i take out a calendar, the big desk pad one, and plot out a blogging schedule – in pencil. Between my notebook and magazine clippings, i can easily schedule post topics months in advance. I often have a theme for the month which helps keep the pipeline full as I funnel ideas along topic channels for a few of a given month’s posts. The desk calendar works best for me because i constantly look at it, this keeps ideas flowing into the mental file folders. Might sound old school, but the written notebook & calendar has been more effective than on the computer. Cutting back from 6-7 posts to 4 per week helped too (stats improved also.)

    Happy writing in 2013!

  • confettidrop

    Mark, I’m discovering that I’m like you. I have to write an idea down when it strikes or it gets lost in the mix in my brain.:) I usually walk with my iphone listening to Pandora. Something about exercising outdoors opens up my thought flow and when I get an idea I go to the note app on my phone. (So handy.) Glad you figured out your writer’s block. I’ve only recently found you. Don’t leave the blogosphere! 🙂

  • You are an amazing guy. I can’t wait to follow your journey!

    Evernote is a great idea. I still have not mastered it as my go-to place for ALL notes. I use it for more long-term projects.

    Thanks for the brilliant observations Pavel!

  • Sounds like you are more disciplined than you give yourself credit for! 200 ideas is pretty impressive. Good job!

  • Four times a week is pretty ambitious. Although I post 5 times a week, I only write 2 posts or 3 at the most and I can usually crank those out in a couple of hours.

    Try this mind game — try writing from a completely different perspective, like this for example:

    This got my creative juices going and resulted in something completely original. Try writing in a different way. What if your post was like a movie script, a news account, or a poem? Good luck!

  • Absolutely. I can;t force it!

  • Here’s a secret. I have no editorial calendar. I have a queue of ideas and possibilities and I just “orchestrate” more then plan. I wouldn’t recommend that for everybody but it works for me. Thank so much for sharing your perspective Lisa!

  • Julie Musial

    I use a folder but I like your idea of putting your ideas right in WordPress.

  • Ha! I’m just getting started Gaye! Thank you very much for reading my blog.

  • Whatever works. It is a good system for me any way. Maybe a headline and a few bullets.

  • RogierNoort

    I use the WordPress iPhone app.., open it up, type the title (which usually is the idea) and type away on the opening, to give the idea a bit more body.

    If I have time, or feel so inclined, I type the whole (rough) post on the iPhone, save it to the blog as soon as I have a connection and that’s that…

    Or I just ask my wife if she has any ideas or questions for her blog/community, that works good too… 🙂

  • I’ve recently learned a couple of things about myself and what works best… first, I use the sticky note app on my mac to capture my bursts of inspiration and second… as tech as I am, my best writing comes when I put pen to paper instead of trying to write in wordpress. Maybe it’s because I’m using the creative side of my brain and not worrying about editing at the same time? Don’t know but whatever it is, it’s worked wonders for me generating consistent material. That and I read and learn from awesome people like you 😉

  • Thanks for another great post here Mark. I also use this system, I write the idea as a headline or just a phrase or two and save as a draft in WordPress. For me it started more than 30 years ago.
    As a kid I began writing stories, poetry and song lyrics and would write a line or two down on a scrap of paper and throw it in a box. Then when I’d want to sit down and finish something I would sift through the box and find a nugget that inspired me further. That process led to several published songs over the years.
    Your post reassures me that if someone as successful as yourself in the blogging arena uses same process that maybe there is hope for my little blog after all!
    It also makes me want to slap myself a bit… because, while I use this process of capturing ideas on the fly, I don’t do it near enough. I need to add something in there every day or two, to build a real quality buffer of post ideas ready to go. I travel a good bit for my business, and sometimes it is tough to meet my weekly self imposed blogging deadline, but I am getting better about the consistency.
    I have learned a great deal from you, so THANKS… I am also enjoying your book ROI right now, I asked for it and got it for Christmas from my wonderful wife. It’s a great read.
    All the best,

  • Mark, I admire you so much for being a faithful blogger! It’s a testament to your commitment to adding to the knowledge base of the industry, something I’m really passionate about and believe in. This last year has been a huge challenge to me as a blogger because of the intensity of the projects I’ve been working on and the state of my anchor client (traditional information company moving into a digital space with its products), it was so consuming that I ended up at the end of the year with no fewer than 25 “started” posts. I just couldn’t take my mind off the daily challenges and give myself permission to “indulge.” I know it sounds crazy, but intense day-to-day can do that to you! Your system is awesome and you’ve inspired me to make a renewed effort to not get too “busy or lazy” to contribute. Keep up your extraordinary blogging and thanks for being a such an inspiration!

  • I’m probably more like you – I record my ideas, sometimes in Evernote, sometimes (almost always) on paper. I keep a notebook with me at all times for blog post ideas, poems, projects…

    I like to find different ways of looking at a topic, so just about everything can become a source of inspiration. Isn’t that why the running joke is to be careful about writers? 😉

  • This is a great post. I agree it takes discipline and a process to keep generating ideas for writing, but more important, catalog them for future reference. I use Evernote for mine, and my ultra-high-tech thinkpad (looks like a moleskin, acts like an idea scribble magnet). Learned to use that on the fly when I was a reporter.

  • You are a wealth of ideas my friend! I don’t know why I don;t use that app more. You’ve inspired me to do that!

  • Yes, sometimes I “draw” things out on paper. I am a very visual person! Sometimes I need to plot where I’m going! : )

  • Hey, give a big thank you to your wife for me! It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Many thanks for sharing your observations Tracy!

  • This is exactly why I blog on the weekends. I devote the week to students and clients. Even though I do believe my blog is core to my business, I take quiet time on a weekend morning to get it done without interruption or “guilt!”

  • Glad to find a kindred spirit Erin. Thanks for caring enough to comment. I appreciate it!

  • Good reminder to also keep up to date with people on a face-to-face. I believe your meeting with Pavel Konoplenko helped you realize what was going on. Had that meeting not taken place – well you might have continued to struggle for a while longer.
    Thanks for sharing these ideas on how to keep the growth going!

  • Writing the idea as a headline in WordPress and saving it as a draft . . . this may, quite simply, be the best piece of advice of 2013 so far. Thanks Mark, and thanks to all of you who commented as well!

  • I find this absolutely true for me. When I’m being mindful, anything can become a topic, from my cats to a random conversation to the service I get at my local bagel shop. I have an ongoing list of topics in a very long document that I peruse for inspiration. It comes in handy!

  • I love this tip and the power of it’s simplicity, many thanks. I’ve started a blog ideas journal in a very small notebook but I then have to make sure those ideas make it onto my computer. I will be sitting down this evening and turning each idea into the title of a draft post. I’ve become a bit of a notebook fool. Too many of them and they are not organised. Managed to stop my addiction to notebook apps but not the real thing.

  • RogierNoort

    We aim to please… 🙂

  • Mark, thanks so much for this helpful and inspiring post. I have found myself in a “dry spell” now for a little over a month, and even perusing my recorded WordPress headlines isn’t helping. I find it very hard to become re-enthused about a topic that I found engaging in the past if it doesn’t strike my passion core at the moment I have time to sit and write a post. Any thoughts? Maybe I just need to go sit out in nature and contemplate the world. But all the other parts of my life seem to get in the way of that being feasible.

    P.S. I have tried to leave comments several times over the past few weeks. It seems my work computers will not permit this, regardless of what browser I am using. So I don’t want you to think I have stopped being a part of the {grow} community. Using my iPad to get around whatever firewall issue has raised its ugly head.

  • I would say reporters probably make the best bloggers! Same skills!

  • Very true Tom. We actually talked about that fact as it was happening. : )

  • allarminda

    I love this post, Mark. It’s honest and offers solutions. I’ve been trying to better organize my blogging life, juggling multiple blogs and a busy life. Setting aside that quiet time designated for my blogs has been essential, and has made such a difference. I, too, use the WordPress iPhone app, but will be more intentional about capturing ideas there in the moment. And then, hopefully, I’ll be able to recapture the initial rush of an idea when I have focused time to fill in the substance.

    P.S. I’m reading even if I’m not regularly commenting. Thanks for impacting my life.

  • I have my notepad app on my iPhone that I type notes in, a physical notepad always in my purse (people laugh at this but I love writing things down with pen) and I email myself with ideas. Once in awhile – need to get more regular at this – I take everything and do what you do and create draft blog posts in WP for each idea. If Im stuck, I search my drafts and go from there.

  • great post. i’m a comedian for the longest time, so writing everything down in a notebook is something i’ve been doing forever. just ideas/ thoughts/ concepts, everything goes down in the notebook that i almost always have w me. if i don’t, it goes down in the notes app i have on my droid. i think the other important thing is that your blog has to be ‘focused’. it has to be ‘about something’ or you will run out of GOOD ideas very quickly. too many ppl think blogging means online diary and there are only so many times you can go through your day without killing readership. so glad i found you. you’re a wealth of cool stuff and i’m going to buy your ‘roi’ book next. 🙂 beck

  • Nice! Great to hear!

  • Very true. I’m amazed at even the simplest of posts finding an audience. Thanks Carol.

  • Excellent. That made my day. Thanks Evan!

  • I think this is just what the doctor ordered. Literally! : ) This might help:

  • Hey you! Great to hear from you!!! Any chance you’ll make it to Social Slam April 5?

  • Ha i do the same thing. In a pinch I email my headlines to myself. OK, we’re both a little crazy then : )

  • A very key point. If it isn’t about “something” you’re going to confuse people. That doesn’t mean you can;t bring in other topics and passions, but there does have to be a focus. Thanks Rebecca!

  • Great topic Mark, nothing as intimidating as a blank page. I tend to do three things. 1) When I get an idea, I email it to myself from my phone and save it in a folder called “blog ideas” 2) I very disciplined about bookmarking ideas on Delicious with a comment about my idea 3) often I’ll get an idea while on the road, say during a commute, and I’ll record a voice memo to myself on the phone for the archives. So whenever I hit a wall, I have three places to go where I’ve cataloged some ideas.

  • I totally understand about blogging paralysis. Sometimes it’s in fact the opposite. As a gadgetguy, days like today with CES and the wave of new announcements, there are too many things to write about so the issue is trying to select amongst all the new toys. In addition, I also do my own testing for reviews and it’s time consuming as I like to be thorough. So often I ask myself, do I continue with my testing today or just find a shorter topic for the upcoming post and continue with my testing after that.

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  • Tremendous advice there Frank. A blog post in its own right.

  • Wow that is a great problem to have. I can imagine that is extremely time-consuming if you are to do a good job with it. I’m pretty honored you took time in your busy week to comment here. I’m humbled!

  • As I was reading this, I immediately thought Evernote! and WordPress app! and it looks like a few others had the same ideas 🙂 With that said, there is something about writing on paper (or a receipt) that seems quicker, although in the long-run, finding and recording that piece of paper usually takes more time.

    I love that you didn’t know what to write, and then wrote a post about not knowing what to write. It just shows there is always something to write about – especially with our rapidly changing social world.

    I never thought to add a draft to the blog queue with an idea; brilliant! As a back-up at Cision Blog, we have a loose editorial calendar of ideas, which usually keeps us on track (sounds similar to your drafts, albeit in spreadsheet form).

    Thank you for the inspiration!
    Cision NA
    Social Media Manager

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  • Sometimes I’ll email notes to myself but I don’t run into many situations where I can’t come up with an idea.

    There is just so much out there, although lately I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether there is value in running a series or if readers will be bored by it.

  • Mark,

    Look in the mirror and realize you’re Gangster when it comes to creating fantastic conversation and engaging an audience.

    We’re here bro.

    Rock it.


  • Well done Lisa and thanks so much for commenting!

  • I agree but I have such a poor memory. I will keep thinking of the same idea over and over if I don;t write it down!

  • I am literally laughing out loud. “Gangster” huh? That’s a first. Thanks buddy.

  • Hi Mark, great post. If you don’t know about it already, I think you’ll love Press It. It’s a WordPress app. Install it in your bookmarks bar. Then when you’re on a web page with content you want to blog about, hit press it and a small window will open with a draft post and the web link already posted in.

    Juliet – following you on Twitter @JulietFay.

  • What??? I have never heard of that before. Are you KIDDING me??? That is brilliant. You are my new BFF. Thanks Juliet!

  • allarminda

    I really want to. (Still hate that I missed last year.) It’s the same week as my daughter’s spring break, so I’m looking at what that might mean.

  • Mark,

    It doesn’t sound like you “screwed up” your blogging strategy. It just sounds like you were busy or tired and not fully thinking it through.

    So, do I understand that you put all of your blog ideas in your actual blog as drafts? If so, I would assume that you have a big list of drafts that may or may not come to fruition. Is that correct?

    I organize my ideas in Evernote. I basically capture them the way you do, only I put them in one Evernote folder. Then, when I need an idea, I just go there. Of course, the danger is that things may expire before I ever actually go looking for an idea. I’m not sure if that’s bad or not. It’s just kind of an idea treasure chest.

    It’s always interesting to get a look into someone else’s process. Thanks for sharing.


  • Yes, that is correct. I have a backlog of about 60 ideas but most of them will never see the light of day. I like Evernote but tend to stick with the WordPress strategy to save ideas because at some point you would have to move the ideas from Evernote any way. Thanks Kenna!

  • Gents (Mark W. Schaefer and Pavel Konoplenko ),you’re totally right that there’s such a thing as TOO much information and TOO many ideas. I’m uncluttering right now both physically and digitally, and while you can come up with good templates or notes for getting a blog post off of the ground, too much can most definitely weigh you down. I’m in the process of gaining some clarity in my ideas to ultimately create better content, and what you two are up to definitely seems to be a step in the right direction 🙂

    Hopefully 2013 will see additional clarity of thought for all of us!

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  • I love your system. The notes on the receipt are funny and writing right into WordPress is a good idea but there must be a middle way… Evernote? Spunge? Notes in the phone?…. I’m still trying to figure out whe works best for me.

    Funny that you mention the Google Analytics thing – I’m often surprised how people find my blog with terms that are certainly not my main keywords 🙂

  • Here is one of my favorite stories about an unexpected keyword. In fact this really blew my mind. Hope you enjoy it and thanks for commenting!

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  • This post is timely Mark. It resonates with me at a time where I haven’t been updating my blog for the same reasons… lack of ideas and time. I’ve always said to myself that if I had to force it, I would stop. Perhaps I need to try the strategy you’ve recommended.

  • You’re welcome! Thank you for the great ideas; we’re implementing them already!

  • Gabrielle

    Thanks for sharing this, Juliet! I got really excited when I read your comment too… and after a bit of digging, I found that it is now called Press This and is found in WordPress under Tools > Available Tools.

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  • RGBSocial

    I’ve actually got a very similar system, though similar to some other commenters, I use Evernote to record my ideas. Evernote is installed on my smartphone, tablet and laptop, so whenever, or wherever an idea strikes, I simply open Evernote, record the thought with any support points that might be conceived at the same time, and then I’ve got the idea captured and synced on all of my devices. Typically I will add ideas to an existing note with other ideas so that when I sit down to write, I’ve got a laundry list of ideas to pull from.

    Great post Mark. Thanks.


  • Let me know how it goes Dave. Here is another sure-fire source of ideas — Go to LinkedIn Group for your industry and see what questions people are asking in the forums. Answer some questions that interest you . Voila. Blog post!

  • Evernote is really an amazing app, isn’t it? I am using it more and more often! Thanks Matthew!

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  • William Peregoy

    Hi Mark,

    Good post.

    I’m curious as to how much you elaborate on your thoughts. I’ve done quite a bit of this – writing headlines or even a short bit of notes in WordPress whenever I have a good idea. But, usually when I come back around to it, I often fail to elaborate on those ideas and they either rarely become posts or become posts that aren’t as good as I originally expected when I had the idea.

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