Tag Archives: blogging

12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation

Presented at the 2017 Grand Rapids WordCamp

Hi, I’m Peter DeHaan. Here’s a little bit of information about me. I’m a published writer. I’m a passionate blogger. I’ve written about 2,200 blog posts for myself and about 500 for other people. I’m a commercial freelance writer, a magazine and newsletter publisher, and a WordPress fan. I have fourteen websites for my business and my writing. They keep me busy. That’s why I’m here at WordCamp: to learn how to use my sites more successfully and maximize my effectiveness with them.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about in this session. So, let’s dive into the twelve tips for better content creation, the first point is… Discover the 12 tips for better content creation when blogging on #WordPress. Click To Tweet

1. Focus Your Content.

This is key, when I started blogging in 2009, I wrote about whatever interested me, and I was all over the map. The only person my blog would fully interest, would be someone just like me. I talked about politics, about the weather, and about my family. About holidays, and about technology—whatever. I had an audience, but they weren’t interested in everything I wrote. I realized early on, I had to focus my content.

Have a Vision: Develop a vision for what you want to accomplish with your posts or the blog on your website, and let that guide you. It doesn’t mean that you can’t ever switch. You can pivot later. But initially, to form an audience, you want to have consistent content, so they know that every time they go to your blog, they’re going to hear about A, B, and C and not X, Y, and Z and then to something else.

Be Consistent: Stick with that theme. And when I use the word theme, I’m not talking about a WordPress theme. I’m talking about a content theme. You want to have one consistent theme for your blog, so visitors will know what you represent and what kind of content they’re going to get when they come there.

Think Long Term: Make sure you have plenty of ideas before you start. I heard about one person who wanted to start a blog. He had a topic he was passionate about and really wanted to write about it. He wrote his first blog post and covered everything. He was done. His blog, even though he was very passionate about the topic, had one post on it. And he never wrote a second one.Before you start a #blog, make sure you have plenty of things to talk about. Click To Tweet

Make sure you have plenty of things to talk about. That doesn’t mean you can’t repeat concepts. You can rehash it, give it a different angle, or talk more in depth. Maybe summarized two things together. When you handle content this way, you tell your audience, “Yes, I can give you new content every time you’re here.” You don’t want to repost the same thing all the time and expect them to like that.

What you can do is brainstorm before you start blogging to make sure you have enough ideas. In all my blogs and all the work I do for my clients, I know what I’m going to write in the future. That’s why when I sit down to write, I don’t have to ask myself, “What should I write about today?”

People who do this may look outside and see that it’s snowing. Then they write, “As I look outside my window, the snow is falling…” Well that’s a sign of a writer who has no idea what they want to say. Don’t be that writer.

Instead, develop a topic list so you know what to write about and what to focus on. But that doesn’t mean, that’s what will actually occur. It’s a starting point.

Sometimes I’ll start my blog post, but I realize it’s too long for one post. It can become two posts or maybe five posts. Or I’ll start with an introduction, but I weave over to another idea. Now I have a post on two different topics. By cutting them in half, one becomes a post for the day, and the other becomes a post for next week.

Make sure you have plenty of content ideas. If you don’t have enough to write about before you start, then widen your focus so you can encompass more things. If you have too much to talk about, then narrow your focus. Make it more specific.

The more niche you make your content, the more you can attract people. It’s going to be harder to find them, but once you find them, they’re going to stick with you.

2. Maintain an Idea List

As I mentioned, when we sit down to start a post, we don’t want to say, “What will I write about today?”

Always Look for Topic Ideas: If you have an idea list, you’ll always know what you can write about. The nice thing about that is if you have five things listed, you might look on the first thing and not want to write about that today. What’s the next thing on your list? Maybe, I’m inspired to write about that. There’s been times when I’ve looked at all the things on my list, and I don’t want to write about any of them. But a sixth idea comes to mind, and I write about it.

Having a topic list eliminates what’s called “writer’s block.” Now I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think it’s a mental thing. Whatever job you’re in—let’s say you’re a house painter—and you get up in the morning and say, “I’m just not motivated to paint houses today. I’m not going to do it.” No, you get up, push through, and paint the house. The same thing with writers.

Pick Evergreen Topics: These are topics that play well today, next week, next month, and next year. They’re always in season; they’re evergreen. The reason you want to post them is to resonate with your audience for the long-term. When blogging about current events, news, sports, and politics—yes, those posts may go viral—but it’s not going to have a long-term effect on your traffic.Write about evergreen topics on your #blog to resonate with your audience for the long-term. Click To Tweet

I heard from a professional blogger who did an analysis of when he has posts go viral. He might have a traffic spike of hundredfold for that day. Two days later he’s back to his normal traffic, and he didn’t sell anything additional. He didn’t have more people sign up for his newsletter or his blog. That short-term spike had no business ramifications for him. The lesson is, don’t chase after viral content with trendy topics. Aim for evergreen content. (Yes, all my posts are now evergreen.)

If you want to occasionally write about current events, that’s fine. But realize that in a couple of days it’s going to be old news. In a week, it’s going to be out of date.

To define evergreen topics, look at what’s not evergreen: the things trending on Twitter. Those are not evergreen topics. This presentation is an evergreen topic. What I’m talking about today is going to be just as relevant now as in a year. In fact, I gave a different version of this topic three years ago; it’s the same outline with some different details. That’s an example of an evergreen topic.

3. Invest in the Title

Don’t Skimp: Don’t make the title an afterthought. Too many people write the title at the last minute, in a few seconds. They spent two to three hours writing their post, and as they wrap up, they realize they need a title. Then they just write the first thing that comes to mind, and that’s their title. A title is going to make or break your post. Give it a lot of thought. A title is going to make or break your #post. Give it a lot of thought. Click To Tweet

Find Balance: Make your title SEO friendly, but don’t make SEO your primary objective. Remember that you’re writing for people. You want to attract people’s attention, but you want to attract their attention and be SEO friendly, too.

I can come up with clever titles that will catch people’s attention, but search engines will not know what I’m talking about. I like to create a play on words, try to be clever, or make a vague reference to movies or books, but the search engines aren’t going to understand.

Write to people first, but keep search engines in mind. Therefore, use simple, straightforward titles.

Different Titles: Tweak the title to make a permalink. On WordPress, you can do that. You can have a title be one thing, your permalink may be something different, and your metadata title be a third thing.

Some platforms don’t allow you to do that. Whatever you pick for your title, it gets replicated in all three areas. In WordPress be sure to tweak your title. There was a trend that I call “long form URLs” for the post. It might be two hundred characters long, because the entire title was put into the URL. Don’t do that. Edit it. Make the permalink short and friendly for search engines.

Effective Title Formats: For your title, here are some effective formats you can use:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Provide a solution
  3. Give a “how to,” such as “How to grow your email list.”
  4. State a number of tips. That’s what I did for the title of this presentation: “12 Tips for Better WordPress Content Creation.”

Use these formats. People like them; search engines like them. You’re grabbing their attention right away with the title, so don’t skimp on it.

When I write a post, sometimes I start with the title and then write the post to the title. Other times I start with the concept, write the post, and then write the title last. Sometimes I have a great title, but my post veers off in another direction and doesn’t quite match the title. Then I go back and tweak the title.

But I always give attention to the title. I’m not going to skip that step. Some people say that 50 percent of the effectiveness of your post is going to reside on the title. Give the title some deliberate consideration.

4. Use Categories and Tags Wisely

This tip may be something you all know about, so I’ll go through it quickly.

I think of my blog as a file cabinet. Categories are the drawers in the cabinet, and tags are the file folders in each drawer.A blog is like a file cabinet. Categories are the drawers. Tags are the file folders. Click To Tweet

Categories: I see too many blogs where the category is “uncategorized.” This tells me they were lazy, or they don’t understand WordPress categories. This doesn’t help readers or with SEO.

Avoid uncategorized; always use a category. I’ve heard experts say you want three to eight categories. If you only have one category it doesn’t mean anything, because it doesn’t differentiate your content. If you have too many categories, you confuse readers. I like to have between four to six categories. I also like to list my categories on my sidebar. That way if someone reads a post they like, they click on the category and read more posts just like it.

Categories, also help with SEO. I configured my permalinks with my category as part of the permalink. It combines the website, category, and shortened title the comprise the URL. And this helps SEO.

Tags: Tags are more for people. If they read a post and see a certain tag on it, for example, WordPress, and they click on that tag, they get more posts about WordPress. Experts say to aim for no more than forty to fifty tags on your blog. But one of my blogs has 1,400 posts. As a result, I’ve exceeded that number of fifty tags out of necessity.

Periodically, I look at my blog and ask, “Is one category or one tag being overused?” If that’s the case, I split it up and divide the content into different categories or different tags. Or if a tag isn’t being used at all or only has one entry, then I move the post to another tag. A tag with only one entry accomplishes nothing for your readers, because when they click on it, they get the post they just read and nothing else.

5. Make it Easy to Scan.

Most people reading blog post do not read them, they scan them. And personally, the longer the post, the more I scan. We’ll talk more about post length later, for now, here are some tips to facilitate scanning.Make your #blog posts easy to scan, because most readers will scan it. Click To Tweet

Bullet Points: Bullet points are a way to slow people down and let them get your key elements.

Numbered Lists: Another tip for scannable posts is using numbered lists.

I often get the question, “When do I use numbered lists and when do I use bullet points?” The key differentiation is if you state a number in your title, then use a numbered list. If your introduction cites six items, then use a numbered list.

If you haven’t promised a number, then use bullet points. That’s the main guideline. Some people say to not use more than five bullet points, because then it becomes confusing to readers. Try to keep the number of bullet points short. However, I prefer bullets over numbered lists, because it seems everyone’s using numbers.

Subheadings: I use subheadings to make my key points stand out. I also like to make my subheadings bold, so readers can easily see them. That moves us to the next tip to make for scannable content.

Bold: Sometimes I have a post that has no bullet points, no numbers, and no subheadings. Then I go through and bold certain phrases within the article. Readers can scan from bold, to bold, to bold. And in a few seconds, they know the gist of the post. Some people don’t like that, but I find it works very effectively.

A guiding principle, is making no more than 15 percent of your post bold. I have a friend who blogs, and over half of her post is bold, because, to her, everything’s important. But you can’t scan it. If you have a 600-word post, then no more than 90 words should be bold. That’s a good goal to shoot for.

Things to Avoid: Avoid underline because it looks like a link. Avoid italics because it’s harder to read, especially on a screen.

6. Limit One Point per Post

Having one point per post is very important. Some people are stream-of-consciousness writers, where they start talking about A and then they morph into B. And then they see something that sounds interesting, so they talk about C. Then they need to wrap up their post, and they end with a different statement that doesn’t relate back to the beginning. Aim for one point per post. That doesn’t mean you can’t have subpoints, but each subpoint needs to support the main one.

What’s the purpose of your post? Have a vision for what you want to accomplish. Do you want to communicate information about a topic? Do you want people to sign up for your newsletter? Have a goal and write with that goal in mind.

If you don’t have a purpose when you write a post that means that your post is without purpose. And that means you’re probably going to be that 75 percent of bloggers who creates content no one ever reads. And you don’t want that. You want to be the 25 percent that gets read. Write to accomplish an objective.

What’s the main idea you want people to take away from your post? Have one key takeaway. I use the plug-in “Click to Tweet” where you pre-make a tweet for them, they can click on it, and it automatically goes to their Twitter feed. I put my key point in the Click to Tweet box. That’s what I want them to walk away with.Write your #blogpost with one idea in mind from start to finish, including the title. Click To Tweet

Write with one idea in mind from start to finish, including the title.

We’ve all heard about clickbait, and I think some people make their title clickbait. And when their post doesn’t support that, it disappoints people. Make sure everything is consistent as you develop your post.

7. Aim for the Right Length

There’s a lot of debate about the ideal post length. I understand Google needs at least 200 words to be able to index a post. Even though some popular bloggers sometimes have shorter posts—and people just love it—I don’t know how SEO really works in those situations. But if you have a big following, SEO doesn’t matter as much.

I think 300 to 500 words is ideal for most readers. I seldom read a post over 500 words. I just don’t want to invest the time to read it. No matter how much I like the title, no matter how much I respect the author, the idea of reading more than 500 words overwhelms me. I don’t like that.

What about longer posts? You hear people talk about long-form content. A thousand words, 2,000 words, 5,000 words. [This post clocks in at 4,300 words.] I’ve heard about one blogger with a 20,000-word blog post. That’s the length of a short book. I’d rather write a short book than a long post.

Longer converts better, with more readership and more engagement. But if you’re writing a 2,000-word blog post to have four times the engagement, I’d prefer to write four 500-word posts and get the same amount of interaction. Plus, that would give four pages people can land on. That’s my personal perspective.

Look at your audience. If your audience is busy professionals, they’re probably not going to tolerate a long post. They will more appreciate a 300-word post. Learn how to hook them on the first line, give meat on the second line, and end with one call to action. Keep it short and sweet. They’ll read it; they’ll appreciate it. That’s my opinion.

8. Remember Metadata

A lot of bloggers don’t bother with metadata. Maybe it’s because they don’t understand it or because they’re too busy.Don't forget to add #metadata to your blog post. Search engines need it to do their job. Click To Tweet

Title: You want your title tag to be sixty characters. I heard someone who says fifty-seven, I don’t know why. I usually hear sixty. If you make it longer than sixty, it will probably be cut off. And that’s not good, because it won’t give people a clear idea of what your post is about.

Also, you have sixty characters, so use them. Don’t make a ten-character title, because then you have real estate you’re not using. Use as many of the sixty characters as you can.

Description: The post description is for your reader and for search engine optimization. For your description, you have 160 characters. That’s where you can sell your post to someone who finds you through search, so make it good.

The way I write, often my opening paragraph or my concluding paragraph is a great place to copy to use for my 160-word description. Sometimes I need to edit it. Sometimes neither of those work, so I write a new description, but make sure your post description sells your content to a person who sees it on search results. Sell them so they click one more time to read your post. And if you just automatically use the first 160 characters of your post for your description, but it doesn’t put hook the reader or it doesn’t compel them to click, then you wasted your effort for that post.

Keywords: The last thing is keywords. Google has said for a couple years that they ignore keywords. Yet some SEO tools still have a place for you to enter your keywords. I’m compulsive, and I can’t ignore that empty spot, so I’m going to put in some keywords. But don’t spend much time on it. I give myself about thirty seconds.

I use dictation to write the first draft for my posts. Then when I finish, I speak the keywords, which takes me about ten seconds. Then I copy, paste, and they’re there.

If you think it’s a waste of time, don’t do it. But don’t fixate on it either. Don’t spend a lot of time doing research or anything like that. Just get something in there quickly that reflects your post.

SEO Plugins: There are two popular ones. All in One SEO is what I use. Yoast SEO is another one that other people use.

I understand that if you use one and want to switch to the other, there’s import-export tools that lets you migrate your content. You can imagine with me having a blog with 1,400 posts, that if I switch SEO plugins, I don’t want to have to rekey all the SEO information. I want to be able to move content from one to the other. And depending on who you talk to, some people like one plug-in over the other. From what I gather, they’re pretty much comparable on what they accomplish and the way they accomplish it.

9. Engage Readers

Schedule Content: You want to have a schedule. When I started blogging, I was doing it whenever I felt like it. Sometimes I felt like blogging five times a week, sometimes once a week. Then I hit a season where I dwindled to a couple times a month.Set a #blogging schedule, and then stick with it no matter what. Click To Tweet

Set a schedule for yourself: at this time, on this day, every single week, I’m going to publish a post. It keeps you disciplined, and it lets your readers know that something will be there. The last thing you want is for someone to come to your blog and see your last entry was a year ago. They’re gone. They’ll never come back.

Offer Options: Allow them to subscribe by email or use an RSS feed. This is not as important now as it used to be, but for people who want to consume content these ways, make sure you provide the options for them to do so.

I have blogs I want to follow, but I don’t have a way to subscribe by email, which is how I consume content. I can bookmark it, but I’ll never come back. I can sign up for the RSS feed for me to check later. But when I do check, there are so many things there that I get overwhelmed, and I just skip the whole thing. Make sure you provide an easy way for readers to consume the content of your blog.

Ask for Comments: If it’s aligned with your business purposes, if you want engagement with your audience, you need to ask for comments. But if you don’t intend to respond to them or are too busy, then don’t ask for them to leave their thoughts.

Respond to Comments: When you receive comments, respond to them. It doesn’t have to be long or profound. But let them know you read and understand what they said. You just can’t say, “I agree,” or give a thumbs up. Let them know that you read what they said.

Seed Commenters to Get Started: If you want to engage with readers on your blog, ask some friends to leave comments for you. That way you can have a couple of comments on every post. This will encourage more people to leave comments and engage in your discussion.

Make Commenting Easy: Provide a simple way for people to share their thoughts about your posts. Sometimes I have to jump through hoops to leave a comment. I type up a response but can’t figure out how to log into whatever tool they’re using for comments, so I ditch what I wrote. I like to be able to leave my name, email, web address, and comment. Click, I’m done.

10. Pictures and Graphics

Use relevant pictures and graphics on every post. This helps you capture people’s attention. Make sure you add SEO to your graphics. You can use licensed graphic content, attribute content, or avoid content. I prefer to develop all my graphics inhouse. Use relevant pictures and graphics on every #blog post. Click To Tweet

I heard of one blogger who got graphics from a creative common site, but someone had placed a licensed image there. The blogger took the image, thinking it was available for use. Then they received an $800 bill from the owner of the graphic. The blogger wasn’t happy.

If you want to make your own graphics—which I recommend—use Canva or Pic Monkey, both have free versions and are easy to use.

11. Add Links

For internal SEO, link to past posts, I’m pretty good at remembering to do that.

From older posts, link to new content, I’m not so good at remembering to do that. But both helps with SEO.

Minimize off-site links. There are different schools of thought about off-site links. You can tolerate a few, but keep them to a minimum.

12. Proof and Publish

Beginning bloggers often make one of two mistakes.Avoid these two mistakes that beginning #bloggers often make. Click To Tweet

Avoid Perfection Paralysis: One is they want perfection. They write a post. They think about it. They proofread it the next day, tweak it the next week. A month later, they still haven’t posted it, because they want it perfect. But they’re never going to have perfect. Write it, proof it, and publish it.

Don’t Hurry: The other thing is they rush. With only a few minutes, they dash off something quick and click publish. They haven’t proofed it or done anything to optimize it. And that doesn’t help their cause either.

Use a Scheduler: Consider scheduling posts in advance to take off the pressure of doing things at the last minute. I schedule my post one week, up to a month, in advance.

And that’s it. I just got the warning that my time is up. Thank you for listening. I appreciate your time and attention. Thank you.

[This is an edited transcript of Peter DeHaan’s presentation at the 2017 Grand Rapids WordCamp. Here are the slides. The video recording of the session didn’t turn out, but a recording of the same topic from 2014 is available. The content is very similar.]

How Long Should a Blog Post Be?

Remember that we write for people and not computer algorithms

People have different opinions as to the ideal length of a blog post. When I first started blogging almost ten years ago, I heard you needed at least 200 words for search engines to be able to learn enough information about your post to categorize it. Then the minimum length jumped up to 300 words, with the warning that shorter posts would not be indexed by search engines.

For years that was my goal, to write a post at least 300 words long. In some contexts I still shoot for that. However, many of my clients want content that is at least 500 words long. This seems to be the new standard, if such a thing exists.

Despite this there are supporters of 800 to 1200-word posts, with some people advocating 1,500 to 2,000. On the extreme, we have people producing longform content. Their goal is 5,000-word posts and even longer. I even heard of one person producing a 20,000-word post. That’s the length of a short nonfiction book. If I write 20,000 words, I prefer it be in a book and not posted online.

So, this begs the question: What’s the right length for a blog post?A blog post should be as long it needs to be to cover the topic. Click To Tweet

One answer is as long as it needs to be to cover the topic. No less and no more. If you need to start padding your word count to hit a target length, you’ve lost sight of the goal: the reader.

Another answer considers your target demographic. For example, if you’re writing to busy business people, then keep your post short and succinct. No matter how interested they may be in your content, they’re unlikely to read a longer post because they’re unwilling to invest the time to do so. And even if they try, they are likely to be interrupted before they reach the end, and the chance of them getting back to it to finish it is slim.

Of course, if you’re writing for a specific website, then you better hit their word-count target. The same applies if you’re writing for a client. The client is always right, even if you disagree.

The key consideration in all this is to remember that when we write, we write for people, not search engines or computers. Yes, we must keep the SEO algorithms in mind, but they are secondary in importance to producing great content that readers read.

That’s always been my goal, and I encourage it to be yours, too.

(By the way, this post is 430 words long. I think the length is just right.)

Do You Need a Blog to Build Your Author Platform?

Too many experts say writers must blog, but that may not be good advice

As writers we’re told that if we want to be successful at publishing our work, then we need an author platform. Yes, this is true. Publishers expect writers to have a platform. In fact, it seems, platform may supersede writing quality. After all, a publisher can fix our writing much easier than they can build up our author platform.What Are You Willing to Give Up So You Can Write?

A common example of building an author platform is blogging. At one time blogging was held up as an essential requirement if a writer wanted to land a publishing deal. I think this has moderated somewhat in the past couple years, but there are still many voices saying that writers need a blog if they hope to find success.

So, do you need to blog to build your author platform?

Since I am a blogger, it may surprise you to hear me say the answer is no. As a writer you do not need a blog.

  • If logging will distract you from writing, then don’t blog.
  • If blogging is something you dread, then you shouldn’t do it.
  • If blogging will rob you of joy or suck the life out of you, then you shouldn’t do it.

Don’t let someone guilt you into blogging if you don’t want to do it. Click To TweetDon’t let someone guilt you into blogging if you don’t want to do it. Readers will know your heart’s not in it, and they won’t follow you. When this happens your blogging accomplishes nothing. However…

  • If you like to blog, then maybe you should.
  • If blogging serves as a creative outlet, then go ahead and pursue it.
  • If you enjoy connecting with readers through your blog, then blog away.

A couple years ago, I gave a presentation about blogging at a writer’s conference. A few months later I ran into someone who heard my presentation, and she was quick to thank me.

She said because of my talk she decided not to blog. I was devastated and felt I had failed her. But she was quick to clarify. She said that in listening to me, she realized she didn’t want to blog but felt she was supposed to. My words gave her the freedom to say, “No,” and she was grateful for it.

If blogging is a burden, you shouldn’t do it. Focus on writing first, and worry about platform later.

Is Blogging a Form of Self-Publishing?

I once read that blogging is a form of self-publishing. The author’s opinion gave me pause. It seemed a simplistic claim. I felt it in some way diminished the noble art of publishing.

Anyone can blog, and it seems most everyone does, but not most everyone self-publishes a book, even though the tools are there so that anyone can.Is Blogging a Form of Self-Publishing?

While some blogs are profound and worthy, other blogs are trivial and unworthy.

Oh, wait, some self-published books are profound and worthy, while others are trivial and unworthy. Perhaps there are some parallels after all.

Given that some blogs become books, either verbatim or as a springboard, perhaps blogging is prelude or preparation to self-pub.Blogging is a form of self-publishing. Click To Tweet

What I do know is that blogging is good practice for publishing. Blogging can accomplish the following:

Teaches Us to Meet Deadlines: Having a regular blogging schedule gives us mini-deadlines to hit. Every week we must write, produce, and publish what we create. If we miss a deadline our readers know it. Even worse, we know it. Deadlines prep us to be ready to hit bigger deadlines later for our books.

Trains Us to Write When We Don’t Feel Like It: Writers write—even when we don’t want to. Sometimes we need to write when we’re sick or tired or lacking motivation or have nothing to say. That’s life, and blogging trains us to realize and accept that.

Conditions Us to Publish: We write a post, edit it, and then…vacillate. It’s scary to press “publish” and share our work with the world. What if they don’t like it? What if the piece isn’t ready? But after a couple dozen posts, it gets easier; after a couple hundred, it’s not a problem; and after a couple thousand, I don’t even think about it. That readies us to click publish on our books, too.

Prepares Us to Receive Feedback: Blogging puts our words out for the public to see. Some will like what we write and others won’t. Others will point out typos, and a few will find errors that don’t exist. This will happen with books but on a greater scale. Blogging prepares us for that.

Yes, blogging is a form of self-publishing. So if you blog, that means you’re a self-published author.

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Top Ten Posts about Writing for 2016

Read the ten most popular writing posts on Byline for the past year

Top Ten Posts about Writing for 2016As we turn the calendar from 2016 to 2017, we mark the passing of another year and with it another fifty-two weeks of blog posts here at “Byline,” where we discuss growing as a writer.

Here are the top ten posts on Byline for 2016.

  1. What is the One Immutable Rule of Writing?
  2. 3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be an Aspiring Writer
  3. How to Always Know What to Write
  4. 10 Tips to Improve as a Writer
  5. What to Do When You Hit the Wall
  6. What Are Your Writing Goals This Year?
  7. Why Writers Need to Develop Their Writing Style
  8. Do You Dream of Writing? 5 Aspiring Writer Personas to Avoid
  9. 6 Writing Tips to Quickly Pick-up Where You Left Off and Not Waste Time
  10. May is Short Story Month

Thank you for stopping by this past year. You helped show that these posts are your favorites.

May you have an amazing 2017.Check out these top 10 posts about writing. Click To Tweet

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Your Turn: What Writing Blogs Do You Read?

Writers can learn a lot by reading the posts of authors, agents, and publishers

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...While it’s fun to follow my friends’ blogs (and there are more than I have time to read), I learn about writing and the publishing industry by reading the blogs of authors, agents, and publishers. I’ve followed some of them for more than a decade.

Over the years I’ve learned so much about how to write better and publish successfully. Here are some of the writing related blogs I currently follow:

Of course time doesn’t allow me the chance to read everyone every day, but I do find value in each blog and have learned so much. What writing blogs do you read? Here is my list. Click To Tweet

Your turn: Do you read blogs about writing and publishing? Which ones are your favorites?

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Writers Must Balance Education with Experience

Wordsmiths need both knowledge and a growing word count to achieve writing success

Writers Must Balance Education with ExperienceI’ve run into writers who work in a vacuum. Committed to writing all they do is write, but they don’t study the craft. They don’t read books or magazines about writing; they don’t take classes, attend workshops, or go to conferences; they don’t participate in writing groups, have a critique partner, or use beta readers. They don’t follow blogs, listen to podcasts, or watch webinars. I suspect these folks are more prevalent than I realize – because they write in secret, and I run into them by accident. (By the way, they aren’t reading this post, either – unless you email it to them.)

The opposite extreme are those who read extensively about writing and often quote their favorite gurus; they attend every writing related event they can afford to squeeze in, often traveling far to do so; they join online writing groups, are active in writing discussion boards, and confidently give their opinion on every piece of writing they encounter. There’s one problem: they don’t write. They’ve put writing on hold until they learn more. They have been talking about writing a book for years, but they’re not quite ready to start. They feel they need to figure out one more thing first.Writing without knowledge is futility, while studying without application wastes time. Click To Tweet

The balance between these two extremes is to pair writing with learning. Yes, we need to put in the time and write, but we need to do so in an informed way. Writing without knowledge is futility, while studying without application wastes time.

To pursue this balance I start by writing every day. Then to inform my writing I read writing magazines, follow a few blogs, listen to (too many) podcasts, participate in critique groups, attend two writing conferences each year, and read books (though I have bought more writing books than I have read).

As a long time nonfiction writer, in the past few years I’ve delved into fiction. I started with short stories, recently completed a novella, and will start a novel in November. I’ve also done a lot of studying to prepare me to write good fiction, yet I fear that recently my education has outpaced my experience. I currently have enough writing theory stuffed into my brain to paralyze me. Instead of thinking about writing a compelling story, my preoccupation with systems and formats and conventions and expectations has bogged me down.

My solution is to sit down and write more fiction. This will restore the balance. I can’t wait.

5 Benefits of Blogging

Generating blog posts helps writers grow in the craft of writing and publishing content

5 Benefits of BloggingI’ve been blogging since 2008 and have written over 1,600 posts for my blogs. That’s close to a half a million words and more hours than I care to admit. Why do I do it?

That’s a great question, which I periodically ask myself. One reason is that I enjoy it (most of the time). Another reason is I like to share with others, offer ideas, provide encouragement, and serve them through the gift of words. Third, my blogs are part of my platform, which every author needs.

Aside from these reasons, which are all good, I also see five key benefits of blogging. As a blogger, I…

1) Learn to Meet Deadlines: To serve our community and develop a following, bloggers need to post regularly, according to a schedule. For this blog I post every Saturday morning. Having this weekly commitment has taught me how to meet deadlines for my blogs, as well as for editors, publishers, and clients. Out of thousands of deadlines over the years, I’ve only missed a couple – and for good reasons. Having a due date spurs me to write and not let anyone down.

2) Develop a Writing Habit: Having weekly blogging commitments ensure I write regularly. While some writers bristle at the thought of writing according to a schedule, it’s made the difference for me of moving from hobbyist to professional. For this season of my life I write every day, except for a few holidays – but even then, I manage to squeeze in some writing in the early morning. Writing is how I begin my day, before I do anything else.Bloggers learn to write, edit, and publish quickly. We must or we’ll miss our deadlines. Click To Tweet

3) Produce Content Regularly: When a post is due and I don’t feel like writing, I write anyway or let my followers down. I can’t have that, so I write even when I don’t want to. Yes, it may take longer or require more effort to make it good, but having the ability to push through is a powerful tool to have.

4) Gain Production Speed: In the early days of my writing I’d agonize over an article, tweaking it endlessly over the span of weeks before submitting it. But with blogging we learn to write, edit, and publish quickly. We have to. If we sit on a post, we miss a deadline. When I do work for clients, I write, edit, proofread, and submit, usually in the same sitting. Only on large, critical projects do I tarry, and then only for one day so I can give it a fresh review before I send it off.

5) Find Work: A final benefit that I didn’t expect from blogging is obtaining writing assignments and making contacts. Prospects have seen my posts and appreciated my writing style. Having checked out my blogs they have come to me and ask if I will write for them. The answer is “yes.” Even if people don’t first see my online work, after we talk they check out my posts and articles before they hire me.

As I wrap up my ninth year of blogging, I’m amazed at where my journey has taken me and so appreciative of the results. Because of blogging I am a better and more successful writer.

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What to Do When You Hit the Wall

When our carefully constructed world of work comes crashing down, follow these steps to reconstruct it

What to Do When You Hit the WallWriters are often amazed at the amount of writing I do on a daily and weekly basis. They ask how I manage to consistently stay productive. Part of it is my stage of life, part of it is discipline, and part of it is illusion. The reality is I seldom feel like I am doing enough of the right things and that I am careening through life trying to juggle five items, while I’m only capable of three. I do this as I speed on a motorcycle…in the dark…without headlights. Then I hit a metaphoric wall, and everything stops. Okay, maybe this is a bit hyperbole, but you get the point.

Hitting the wall happens to me on occasion. This time it was a combination of over-commitment, too many deadlines, excessive optimism about my productivity, family priorities, time away from the office, and a strange sickness that required me to sleep more and robbed me of my concentration. It was like a house of cards, carefully constructed and most tenuous. My house of cards imploded. Kaboom!

Here is what I do when I hit the wall:

Pause: The first thing I do is put some things on pause. Exercise is one. Reading is another. Social media is a third. All are important, but none are essential. I can put them on hold for a few days.

Scale Back: What activities can I reduce? I don’t need to listen to as many podcasts as I do. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by what I’m not getting to, I merely pare back the quantity, unsubscribing from some and skipping episodes of others. I also curtail my TV watching and entertainment.

Eliminate: To make my writing life sustainable, I also look for things to eliminate. At one time I had five blogs, each with a different focus and strategy. A few years ago I stopped posting on two of them and just now stopped a third one.

Say “No”: I like to help people and don’t want to disappoint anyone. But I need to remind myself that sometimes declining requests is in my best interest or I’m of no help to anyone.If five things are a priority, then nothing is a priority. Click To Tweet

Reprioritize: If five things are a priority, then nothing is a priority. What is the one truly important thing in this moment? I do it and then move on.

Restore a Buffer: When new opportunities arise I try to squeeze them in. Before I know it, I’m living a life with no cushion. I need to re-establish some buffer to leave room for the unexpected – because surprises do occur.

A few months ago, I saw my wall looming. I took action to protect myself, such as scaling back the frequency of one of my newsletters, saying “no” to some new opportunities, putting one critique group on hold, and curtailing the amount of time I invested in Twitter. These were all good changes, but they were not enough. All these corrections did was delay the inevitable.

Today I am reconstructing my work and my writing life, striving for balance, sustainability, and a saner schedule. It will take time, but I will bounce back – hopefully with fewer projects and less stress.

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Your Turn: Tell Us About Your Website

Tell us about your website or blog and link to it

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...As a new feature of this blog, Byline, we will end each month with a chance for you to complete the post by sharing about yourself, your writing, or your writing journey. I’ll give the topic and you provide the response. Best of all, it should be fast and easy to do.

This month’s theme: Your Website

In the comment section put a link to your blog or website. That’s it.

If you want to write more, share its name (if it has one) and a brief description or tag line.

Think of this as a non-spammy way to let others know about your website or blog. Plus each link to your site will give you a boost with the search engines.

Thanks for sharing. Have a great day!Tell us about your website... Click To Tweet

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