#Blog365 Update – My First “Skip Day”

Well, it was bound to happen eventually.

I made it through 148 days of my #Blog365 project without missing a single post. Yes, some of them (many of them) have been posted late at night. One post was even written from a chair at a bar on my phone. But I always made it.

Then last night I went out to the movies, and thanks to an unexpectedly sold-out show which threw off my schedule for the evening, I missed my window to post yesterday.

In case you’re wondering, I’m making it up by posting twice today — this blog post, in addition to an article on LinkedIn about how to escape your email inbox overload (take a peek if you often find yourself in that boat too).

But missing my first post does give me a reason to pause and consider what my first “skip day” means for this project. Specifically, the question is…

Am I burning myself out on blogging?

Since this year began, I’ve had cause to say many times that I do not recommend the “blogging every day” route for most people.

Frankly, unless your primary responsibilities are blogging and maybe consulting, I don’t recommend it for anyone.

The truth is, when you’re doing it right, blogging every day is not just blogging. It’s about making graphics and taking pictures. It’s about research and editing. It’s about search optimizing and enthusiastic social sharing. It’s actually a lot of work. And if you don’t put that effort in, your writing efforts are probably in vain.

I started this project in hopes of re-energizing my writing discipline and my creativity. At this stage, it feels as though I have certainly gotten more disciplined, but not necessarily more creative. My mind is tired and I often feel the need for more creative input than I can absorb on a regular basis.

Make no mistake, I plan to see this year through. I am hoping this is just the “sophomore slump” phase before I can get re-energized to start churning out higher quality content. But right now it looks like 2016 will probably see me back at the far more sane once-per-week posting schedule. Compared to producing 365 posts, 52 articles sounds like a breeze.

On days when your well is running dry, how do you invigorate your own creativity?

Blogging While Mobile

There comes a time in every blogger’s life when you wind up having to create content while on the move.

You might be in a bar, at a conference, or at an outdoor festival, and have to whip up a post at a moment’s notice.

In moments like that, it is good to know your way around a core set of apps to help you. And it’s a serious advantage to be on WordPress or another platform which allows you to create on the go.

Or, if actually publishing isn’t an option due to poor signal or something like that, it’s worth having a separate place for capturing your ideas and observations, notes and drafts. Somewhere like a OneNote or an Evernote app.

Our smartphones have truly become amazing devices. With each generation that passes, they become better mobile command centers for busy writers in the go. What are your favorite mobile content creation apps?

How an Epic Idea Notebook Can Help You Rock Your Writing

It’s fun for me to read about other writers’ habits. It seems that a lot of other people think so too, because I regularly see infographics (like the one below) and posts shared around on the topic.

I enjoy reading about the people who have routines that allow their writing to encompass most of their days, before they leave to go socialize or do other things.

(It stands out to me that most of those writers’ habits were clearly from the days before self-publishing, self-marketing, and email. Must have made it easier.)

writers routines and idea notebooks

I think the reason I enjoy reading about other people’s writing routines is because my own routine has been so challenging to develop.

Unlike most of the people whose habits I read about, I’m trying to grow and run a lively and demanding business — not just trying to write. As a result, my personal writing time is squeezed in first thing in the morning before anything else comes up.

When you are the “squeeze it in” kind of writer, one of the biggest challenges is keeping track of your ideas. Writers have dealt with that fleeting moment of inspiration for decades, and it can be incredibly frustrating.

Unless… you create a net to capture that elusive idea. And every idea that you have related to this topic before you write about it.

So how do you get started creating an idea notebook?

Online or offline?

I love physical notebooks, and writers throughout history have carried physical paper notebooks to log small thoughts. Many still do. However, personally, there is only one item that goes everywhere with me: my phone. So I opted for digital idea capture, which also has the advantage of being easier to organize and rearrange than a physical notebook.

creating-an-idea-notebook-for-writers

What kind of notebook service?

If you opted for a physical notebook, you can skip this step. Digital notebook users have their choice of a number of different services; the primary two right now seem to be Evernote and Microsoft OneNote. (Personally, I opted for OneNote because I prefer its user interface style and because we use the Microsoft suite anyway.)

Setting up your idea notebook

At this stage, you can start to customize your idea notebook’s structure based on your needs. I started by setting up a “Blog Ideas” notebook in OneNote, dedicated only to blogging. Within that notebook, I created tabs for my articles on the CT Social blog, as well as tabs for posts on other blogs where we contribute.

Using OneNote As An Idea Notebook

Idea Capture

When I first started keeping an idea notebook, I put all of the ideas on the same page. Then I heard the prolific blogger Mike Allton explain his system, and he explained that he puts all of his blog post ideas on separate pages in Evernote — that way he can put expanded ideas on the page related to each topic. I’ve adopted that system too, and I love it because it allows me to keep ideas organized as they continue to develop.

Writing and Publishing

Since this system keeps all my blog posts on different pages, writing becomes a breeze. Since I’m still in the midst of my #Blog365 project, I usually sit down at the start of a week to set up the next few blog post ideas on my list in a publishing order for the upcoming days. I’ll write the posts within OneNote itself — my usual habit is to wake up, roll over, and grab my iPad to start writing using the app. Then I’ll walk away for a little while, edit, and then transfer the post to WordPress for publishing.

———

The best kind of net, ultimately, is the one that you’ll use consistently. The medium doesn’t matter at all, nor does the choice of digital program or the color of the physical notebook.

The only question that matters is, does your system ultimately help you succeed at meeting your writing goals?

One Simple Secret to Level Up Your Blogging

What to do when your blogging feels stagnant

If you and I sat down to play any console video game, you would almost certainly win.

Unlike the majority of my generation (apparently), I never learned how to play them in elementary or middle school. I had computer games, but consoles like the Xbox and the PlayStation always eluded me.

So when I picked up an Xbox controller for the first time (when I got out of college), I had a lot to learn. While I’ve figured out how to play a few basic games successfully in the years since then, many still elude me.

It takes me a long time to get comfortable with the way each button on the controller responds. I sometimes struggle to keep track of my character on the screen. I get a little dizzy in first person shooters.

And so, while I have fun trying, I ultimately struggle to succeed when playing video games.

blogging with active voice can be challenging like a mastering a video game

Carolyn, when playing the average video game.

Bloggers, I’ve discovered, go through a similar phenomenon at times.

They figure out the basics– how to set up a site, how to upload an image, how to publish a post. They come up with some topics and start to write on a semi-regular basis.

And then they get stuck at a certain number of fans, and their blog traffic flatlines. Like me in most video games, they can’t figure out how to level up their blogging.

Not everyone has the same set of challenges, so distilling it down to one simple secret certainly feels trite. But I believe this secret can be a powerful way to develop confidence to tackle other areas of improvement.

The secret to leveling up your blogging: get moving.

In video games, I struggle to figure out the right combination of buttons to move the characters in the way I want them to go. Can’t get moving, can’t fight effectively, can’t make it to the next level.

Most bloggers, I would say, don’t have a problem finding their way around the keyboard. But many do struggle to bring an active voice into their writing… and when it comes to writing, active voice holds the key to leveling up.

I have been as guilty of writing with passive voice as anyone. I often don’t apply much thought to avoiding it on my own.

However, over the years I have worked with professors and clients who took particular interest in eliminating passive voice. Aiming to meet their standards challenged me to raise my own. And I felt better about the quality of my work.

storytelling with active voice as a blogging technique

Passive writing shares facts. Active writing tells a story.

Passive writing sounds like a monotone lecture. Active writing evokes imagination.

If our readers crave stories and emotional experiences, active voice provides the sizzle or sadness they desire.

If our posts should drive people to action, active voice fuels the engine.

When you paint a more compelling verbal picture, more people want to stop and listen.

How to be a more active blogger

I’m never going to learn how to level up in video games unless I keep playing.

The same principle applies to blogging in an active voice.

However, you won’t blog with active voice just by continuing to write. Few bloggers write with a naturally active voice– conscious editing takes it the extra mile.

Prune those fluff words. Run a search through the document to identify places where passive voice slipped through in the form of is, was, were, and that. Try to phrase the sentence differently until you convey your idea with active language.

It may seem like a small thing. I bet some of you who clicked on this post hoped for a tactic for social media audience expansion. (I promise I’ll come back to that topic.)

However, just because we call it “blogging” doesn’t mean the writing should be of a lower quality. And good writing calls us to determine the most compelling way to convey the message.

We can hold ourselves to higher standards. Bloggers, let’s challenge ourselves to level up our writing ability before we lose ourselves in aiming for social media growth. Quality still speaks volumes.

The Simple Truth About Engaging Your Digital Audience

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answer is simple.” -Dr. Seuss

Yesterday was the birthday of one of my literary heroes.

Dr. Seuss understood how to get a message across like no other. Through his words and his pictures, he became one of the most beloved children’s book authors of all time.

Why? Because he understood what his audience needed. He knew how to make them laugh and teach them how to read and love reading at the same time.

It’s a gift and a talent that nearly every writer pursues… many times, unsuccessfully.

Understanding Your Digital Audience by Asking Complex Questions with Simple Answers

Understanding Your Digital Audience

Monica S. asked us about how a blogger can go about gaining an understanding of their audience, and how to effectively get exposure outside of your existing personal network to that specific audience.

It may seem to go without saying, but many writers and bloggers get caught up in their own love for what they are saying. But the truth is, your audience matters more.

After all, for bloggers, most of the primary ways to make money depend on your ability to get eyeballs on your site– particularly eyeballs that are inclined to like and trust you.

How do you learn about your audience?

If you are a newer blogger without much traffic, you have the opportunity to define your own audience.

Because you don’t have a lot of analytics data to depend on at such an early stage, you can take it upon yourself to define your own reader profile. Who do you most want to write for?

  • Business or consumer audience?
  • How old are they?
  • Male, female, or both?
  • What is their everyday life like? Busy? Boring?
  • What do they care most about? What offends them?
  • What is their family life like? Their professional life? Their hobbies?

If you’re a more experienced blogger, you should still go through this kind of question thread too in order to define your customer profile. Part of it is imagination. Part of it is research. A lot of it is about empathy.

However, when you have more traffic, you’ll have better analytics to help you identify who is already coming to your site, from which you can decide whether they are a good fit as an example of your customer profile.

You can use Google Analytics to identify their browsing patterns and the most frequently visited pages. This should give you an idea of their demographics, as well as what kinds of content they most appreciate.

Who is in your digital blogging and marketing audience?

How to Reach a New Audience

This can be a challenge. Many bloggers get stuck within their existing network and only expand it gradually–either as people stumble across their blog accidentally in search engines, or within their own personal networking circles.

Shortest possible answer– reaching a new audience almost always requires going somewhere different and putting yourself out there.

Sure, Facebook is a comfortable place for most people, but unless you have the money to invest in ads (and the willingness to learn how to target them appropriately), you won’t be able to get too far beyond your personal network.

Fortunately, there are other platforms where you can proactively go out and find people who come closer to matching your target demographic.

Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest are my three favorites (the latter is good predominantly if you have amazing and attractive images).

The solid search features available on those platforms should allow you to identify people who are interested in competitor blogs.

You can reach out to them directly, but most people would consider that spam. A more effective way to get noticed is to start retweeting those people or sharing the posts they share. Make it clear you are passionate about the subject matter.

You can also use hashtags to your advantage as well, to search for a relevant audience that makes use of the same hashtags.

Again, sometimes it can work out when you reach out to a reader and say “I noticed you enjoyed XYZ BLOG, have you seen mine?”

But I would say those interactions are usually brief, especially when compared to the ones that begin casually and conversationally.

It may seem like an excessively simple answer, but it’s true. Unless you have money to invest in targeted PPC ads, building relationships is probably the most reliable way to start building and engaging a targeted audience based on your reader profiles.

5 Valuable Lessons From 50 Days of Daily Blogging

Yesterday I published my fiftieth blog post of 2015.

I started this #Blog365 project with the intention of exercising my writing muscles by pushing myself to publish every day. Despite being a blogger off and on since 2005, the daily routine has never lasted too long. Something always stopped me. But this year, so far, I’m still going.

Producing any kind of content on a frequent basis is a challenge, but I have to say, if you feel like you’ve gotten a little stuck as a writer, I highly recommend picking a block of time in which you commit to blogging every day.

Here’s a few tricks I’ve figured out that help:

  1. Ultimately, it’s the ideas that matter. I’m not just talking about how ideas affect the quality of your posts (although of course that is important). Ideas are what keep you blogging every day. As a result, you learn how to mine your days for content ideas– questions to be answered, challenges to be addressed, issues to be researched. Ideas are everywhere.
  2. Know where you put your ideas. Having ideas isn’t enough on its own. You need to have a place to store them until you are ready to write. I use Microsoft OneNote, an often-overlooked brother in the Microsoft Office family. Every idea that is worth a blog post gets its own page in the digital notebook. That is where the posts are drafted and live until they are brought over to WordPress and ultimately published.
  3. Spill your ideas on to the page. Blogging every day isn’t for people who lack the willingness to find a way to articulate their ideas quickly and well. Unless, of course, you already have a steady passive income stream that allows you to spend that much time on your articles. After fifty days, I am pretty reliably drafting new blog posts in about an hour, and spending about 20-30 minutes editing, formatting, posting, and sharing.

    Side note: It helps a lot to have a creative routine of some kind in place to get you in the blogging zone. 

  4. Let go of perfection…for now. There is a worthwhile debate raging in the blogging world over the comparative value and popularity of long-form highly intellectual content, versus frequently published short-form content. I don’t have a solid answer for that yet, but I will say that I feel intuitively that, in most cases, I could do better posts if I took more time on them.

    But that’s what I did all last year. This year, my goals are about finishing posts faster. For me, that is as an opportunity to go back and edit and improve my posts in the future.

  5. Accountability matters. Sometimes, no matter how much you want to do something, you still need an accountability structure to make it happen. I put this goal out there in public for EVERYONE to see. I shared it on my social networks, I shared it with Greg, and I talk to people offline about what I’m trying to do.

    Since it’s an everyday project, it’s easy to tell if I skip a day. This kind of public accountability structure is a great way to accomplish any goal.

 

There are still 315 days to go this year, so there’s a lot more to discuss between now and then. Would you help me out? I’d love to answer any of your questions about digital marketing in a blog post! Leave your ideas in the comments :)