Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Having a blog is a smart idea for any author. It connects you to readers, exposes your existing readers to more of your work, and provides a space where your readers can interact with you and with each other. Equally important: maintaining a blog keeps you writing. There’s a certain degree of public accountability, and with a blog, there’s always a short-term goal to aim for. In the age of WordPress et al., it’s easy to start a blog.
It’s easier still to quit a blog. Churning out regular, meaningful content is a challenge. Fortunately, it’s not an insurmountable challenge. Here’s how to have a blog and maintain it, too.
Unless you’re a rocket, don’t shoot for the moon
Realistic goals are essential to the health and longevity of your blog. Aim for too much content and you’ll either fall behind, or you’ll keep up and risk losing your day job. Aim for too little and there’s no chance of building momentum – you may as well not bother.Commit to your author blog, but don’t overextend.Click To Tweet
Authors often try to set up their productivity goals rather arbitrarily. They see their favorite blog publishes content twice a week and fool themselves into thinking once a week sounds good. Obviously, how much time you have does matter, but the nature of your blog (length, audience, and purpose) should influence how often you post.
How much are you writing?
If your entries are bite-sized, your audience can handle – and will probably want – frequent snacking privileges. If each post is like a seven-course meal, give people time to digest and give yourself time to prepare for the next installment. This is pretty self-evident, but where many authors lose traction is at the juncture of (wrongly) assuming that how often you want to post determines how often you should write.
Your publishing schedule and your writing schedule are two separate questions. Trying to write too many short posts too often leads to a feeling of frenzy, and the resulting posts aren’t always up to par. Meanwhile, the every-other-month long post gets lost in the calendar and you find yourself up against the deadline, trying to churn out 3000 words by tomorrow morning. Batch production is the answer, but we’ll return to that in a moment.
Who’s reading it?
Don’t determine how much you write purely by how much you like to write. If your blog’s content is just based on your needs and preferences, you’re going to have a small audience: you. Your mom, maybe.
Try this: create an avatar of your audience. Gender, age, hobbies, interests, intellectual level, lifestyle, income. Why would they read your blog? What are you offering them they won’t get elsewhere? This profile of your target reader will help you decide how much and how often they’re likely to consume your content. Let’s take a look at a few case studies:
Disney’s got a blog for moms, and it’s pretty concise, seeing as its followers are going to be, well, moms. Moms don’t have a lot of time, they like short, punchy content, they want their advice to be actionable and quick.
Side bar: reference Babble (or other uber-popular sites) as models of length, not of frequency. Such sites have high-volume output because (a) they have multiple authors, (b) their users are going to search for content on an as-needed basis, and (c) they already have a strong following. If you’re trying to gain a following, you want every post to be click-worthy for just about everyone (in your target audience) who sees it.
The Parenting Passageway
In contrast, there are parenting blogs that tend to go long-form because they know their audience (in this case, the homeschooling, slow-life style of the Waldorf families she’s writing for) will take time to read a denser blog if it means a significant contribution to their overall life goals. This is different from the ‘Quick! Fix this one issue I have!’ style prototypical of the Babble blog.
This blog on developing mindfulness and changing your life habits poco a poco meets its readers in the space between where they are and where they want to be: moving out of an overstuffed, high-stress life and into a place of peace and intentionality. The posts are medium-length but information-rich.
This is not a blog proper, but take a gander at Michael Pollan’s article archives. They’re not five-minute smoke-break material. Pollan’s readers are thinkers. They want the grass-finished, ethically raised, slow-cooked meat, not a bucket of chicken fingers as they drive from place to place to place and scan mini-blogs at red lights.
Seth Godin’s blog is notoriously short. I mean, all the way down to 74-words-short. Godin is the guy who made finances cool (sorry, Warren Buffett). His branding is youthful, highly accessible, and hipster-savvy. Even though a lot of people will follow both gurus, the split lies on the line between people who are used to reading newspapers and those who prefer Twitter.
You get the picture. There’s a market for articles of every length. Know who your audience is and what they’re likely to engage with. If you already have a large following, it’s okay to check your stats to see if your longer or shorter posts are getting more attention. But if you’re still garnering readership, avoid the temptation to do this. Your current reader base may not be your optimal reader base. Rather, try to discern the culture of your (target) readership and produce content on that basis.Tailor your content for the audience you want – it might take a while to snare them.Click To Tweet
Leave yourself a buffer
Your publishing schedule and your writing schedule may not line up – in fact, they probably shouldn’t line up, because if you wait to write until you’re almost ready to publish, you’re not leaving yourself any margin. You want a margin, given life’s tendency to take unexpected turns and the brain’s tendency to go blank the minute you sit down to write.
Keep a couple articles stashed away for a rainy day. These should be relatively broad, so they’ll be relevant any time you pull them out. Then, when you find yourself facing a deadline at work, helping your kid with her science fair project, or dealing with a ‘check engine’ light – no problem. Pull out one of your backup posts, proof it, and your blog lives on! You maintain your momentum.Produce more articles than you need to give yourself a useful buffer.Click To Tweet
Alternatively, write ahead by two or three posts. Once you’ve nailed down your publication schedule, block out your writing hours several weeks ahead. The resulting rhythm means that, eventually, you’re still logging the same amount of hours, but your next three articles are already done. You keep pushing those out as you develop new posts. In order to get into this state of proactive productivity, it’s not necessary to spend several sleepless nights getting ahead (or getting caught up, then getting ahead). Using the batch-producing tactics below, you’ll soon find yourself comfortably ahead of the game.
How to batch produce content for your blog
Batch producing is a factory assembly line for your writing, only with less uniform results and no CO2 emissions. Instead of writing each article from scratch, work in the following four phases:
1. Brainstorm and research
Come up with several ideas all at once. Sit down with actual paper and pen (better yet, colored pencils) and write/draw/doodle concepts that are interesting to you and their possible connections to each other. You might go the thematic route – several posts that tie together over a series – or just generate several interesting topics. Don’t censor yourself at this point. One idea may lead to another; an idea that seems lame might prove revolutionary.
After you do your brainstorm, take a look online and see what other people in your field of interest are writing about. You’ll get more creative flow if you brainstorm first, but it’s important to do some research, too. Doing so can lead to inspiration, and it can give you a feel for where the gaps are. Write to fill in the gaps, or to complement existing structure. (Remember your audience avatar: What are you offering them they won’t get elsewhere?)
The next stop on your assembly line is to write a rough outline for as many of the ideas from step one as you can. What you include in your outline will depend on how you structure your blog, but these should be pretty bare bones. It’s important to include the takeaway for each post, so that when you write the article, that’s at the forefront of your mind. I also like to include section headings, so that I can go through and fill out a section at a time, especially if I only have a little bit of time one day.
3. Write (roughly)
Depending on your publication schedule, you’ll probably want to write two or three articles at a time. If you haven’t worked this way before, you might be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it is to work when you have an outline already in place. The biggest advantage, in my experience, is that it keeps you focused. If you’re anything like me, without an outline and a solid sense of direction, you find yourself casting about for ideas and distracting yourself along the way. Take advantage of the smoothly paved road. Close out your internet tabs and put your phone in another room, turned off, in a closed drawer, with a healthy layer of socks and underwear over top of it. Seriously. If you don’t block out distractions (perhaps with software), you lose more time than you ever realize.Produce articles in batches to keep your blog running smoothly.Click To Tweet
Edit your work during a separate work block. You’re a writer, so you know: writing flows, editing stutters. By separating these phases, you don’t lose the stream of creativity and momentum necessary for writing. Then you can turn on your critical eye during the editing phase. If your articles are super short, try writing several at a time and then editing them all at once. If they’re longer, write and edit one at a time. Either way, resist the urge to edit as you go.
Your game plan:
- Spend some time thinking about your readers and how to woo them. What do they want to hear and how often do they want to hear it? Does that line up with your goals and schedule?
- Draw up a publication schedule.
- Estimate a writing schedule, not based on word count or individual articles, but on the batch producing phases above.
- Make sure your writing schedule puts you a few articles ahead of your publication schedule.
- Enjoy the feeling of staying on top of your blog!
Stick to this plan and you’ll have an author blog that builds your brand and pulls in readers.
Do you have an author blog? What challenges have you faced in keeping it stocked with content? Check out 3 Things You Should Be Writing About On Your Author Blog and Why You Need To Brand Yourself As An Author, And Exactly How To Do It for more great advice on this topic.