Man… time sure does fly. I was looking over some old posts and realized that I started writing this blog almost two years ago. That got me thinking a little bit about blog writing and how my writing has changed over the past few years. I thought I’d take a moment to explore what I’ve learned and maybe share a few experiences.
The guy I was working for at the time gave me the best advice ever… he told me to get over it. That’s easier said that done… but you know what… that is just what I did. I got over it and started writing. It helped that I changed jobs and got out of the daily grind of project management. It also helped that I have the support of VersionOne and a bigger platform to share my ideas. Even with all that… it took some time to get good at generating content without spending hours and hours doing it.
Writing is a skill that can be learned… there are processes you can follow and you can get better. You can get better capturing ideas… you can get better writing quality content… and you can get better getting those ideas on your blog faster. After some 150 posts, several whitepapers, and a couple of longer reports… I feel like I have learned a few things about the process of writing…. at least blog writing. I want to share a few tips with all you would-be bloggers to help you get started.
1. Keep an idea inventory
I am always on the lookout for good blog ideas. Not many areas of my life are really off limits. As you might imagine, most of my ideas come from interactions with clients and other folks out in the agile community. A lot of my posts though are influenced by my family… my involvement in Boy Scouts… and by my friends at church. Whenever you get a good idea… actually, any idea… write it down.
2. Set a fixed amount of time to write
Try to limit your writing to two hours. When you are just getting started, this bit of advice might be hard to follow. The idea is that you want to set limits and create a little pressure to perform. It is easier to sit down and write when you can allocate a set amount of time and know you won’t be interrupted. It’s also helpful to know that you can’t just sit there forever staring at a blank page… you’ve got to write something!
3. Write down your key point
There is nothing worse that reading a rambling post where the author doesn’t know what he wants to say. Start writing your post by jotting down a sentence or two that helps you stay focused on the significant point you want to get across. Also… as you start writing… plan to communicate your key point in the first paragraph or so. Personally, I lose interest if I am not sure where you going. You’re writing a blog post… not a suspense novel.
4. Start brainstorming content
Once you know your key point… start writing down ideas that support your key point. At this stage, don’t worry about sentence structure, grammar, sequence or flow. You just want to get the ideas out of your head. More often than not it’s the formality of the language that is preventing you from getting your ideas down on paper. If you can just get the ideas written down… after a paragraph or two… you’ll probably find that the structure of the post will start taking shape in your head.
5. Actually write the post
Now that you know your key idea and have some supporting content… start actually writing your post. The focus at this step is to organize your thoughts and begin getting the ideas into a coherent sequence and paragraph structure. You are telling a story… it should have a beginning, middle, and end. Spend some time cutting and pasting the ideas around to make sure you’ve got the right story in the right order. Start roughing in your ideas using actual sentences. The post does not need to be perfect… but you should begin to have a pretty good idea of how you are going to make your point and how the post is going to flow.
6. Proof-read and proof-read again
After you have all your ideas in sentence and paragraph structure… go back and reread it to make sure it is all making sense. Sometimes when you are working on the parts of the post, it is easy to lose sight of the whole story. At this step you are fine tuning the order of ideas, sentence structure, paragraph breaks, headings, spelling and punctuation. Focus on flow, clarity, and final presentation.
7. Publish your post
Try to find some sort of interesting graphic that supports the key idea behind the post and makes the article a little more visually appealing. Now just load your post into your publishing tool … preview the post… make any final formatting changes. Now you are ready to post.