7 Good Blogging Habits
Written from Zurich, Switzerland
Blogging, like any form of writing, is unique to the individual. The habits that help Stephen King crank out dozens of best-selling novels are vastly different from the habits that help Timothy Ferriss build an empire around his three "4-Hour" books. However, in our quest to write well, there are tid-bits that tend to help us not suck quite so badly.
1. Define Your Premise
Any great blog, like any great story, is built around a premise and everything that is created is created to prove or add credence to that premise. The writer's responsibility is to create worlds in which the story or the blog exists and then to filter out the creations that don't belong. A minor character may live in the same town as the main character, but if he adds no emphasis toward the main character who is the embodied manifestation of the premise, he is superfluous. Lagniappe. Similarly, if a post or piece of content on the blog is simply living in the same town as the blog's main character, it may water down your premise unnecessarily. Coherency is key.
Exercise: Piggybacking off of a classic copy-writing exercise, in one page, one paragraph and one sentence, define your blog's premise. What is it that you are trying to prove or show?
2. Create a Schedule
Schedules are hard. They force you to do things you may not want to do, they make you say "no" when you may want to say "yes" and they have a nasty habit of getting filled up with worthless crap. I get it.
However, I wouldn't be writing this down if I didn't believe it; creating and sticking to a writing schedule becomes easier with time. As you begin to notice your life in new ways, you'll find more content hiding in every nook and cranny.
A writing schedule allows you to get ahead. If you know you need to write one post per week, but you have three brilliant ideas in one day, you can schedule your posts three weeks out!
A writing schedule acts as a filter. If you're only posting one post per week, but you're writing every day, you might have seven blog posts but you only choose the best one to put out there.
A writing schedule motivates you to write. If you have to post once a week, you can't go a week without writing! Duh... (secondary benefit: see #4)
A writing schedule gives your audience confidence in you. We are naturally more trusting in those well-oiled systems that just work day after day. If a train is sometimes late, sometimes early or sometimes doesn't run at all, we have a hard time believing that it is credible. We move on and find a new train. A great writer doesn't leave his audience hanging and doesn't overload them with content; a great writer delivers like clockwork.
Exercise: If you're just starting a blog, I would suggest with one short post (3-4 paragraphs) per week. Choose a day and a time and schedule your posts to publish at that time each week.
3. Idea Master List
I am a compulsive list maker - I probably have 20+ different lists just on my phone. That isn't including my Evernote (in which I have over 1,200 notes), moleskins, email, margins of school notebooks and sharpie on my arm.
One list that has proven itself to be absolute GOLD has been my idea master list. If an idea comes to mind - it doesn't matter how small, vague or disconnected it might seem at the time - I jot it down in my idea master list. After it has been recorded, it allows me to read through my list during brainstorming sessions and connect or flesh out ideas. Sometimes an idea will sit in my list for quite a while before latching itself to another strand of thought. That's okay - one day it will be the answer.
Exercise: Create a note in your "Notes" application on your phone and begin jotting down ideas, quotes, theories, research topics, habits you want to adopt, places you want to visit, things you want to buy, books you want to read etc.
4. Practice Daily
When you are writing, you have to actually write. It may not sparkle and that's okay. In time, the sparkle will come more quickly. Practice makes perfect, as they say.
Exercise: Begin by writing one meaningful, truthful sentence per day.
5. Write for You; Then Write for Others
There are brands that are rooted deep in quality, ingenuity, or service who become complete sell-outs! They garner an enormous following of consumers who love them for who they are and their commitment to being the best at what they do. Then, in an unbelievable turn of events, they put out art, products or service that is an absolute detour from their brand, hoping to take advantage of a passing trend.
Be you. Write for you.
Once the core is wrapped up in being the best you that there is, sand it, polish it and make it presentable to the world. Then and only then will you tap into the soul of an authentic creation.
Exercise: Write a post all about the thing that changed your life. Then don't publish it. Don't let the thought of an audience push you to subconsciously edit your work; let it out in its most raw, personal, "you" form.
6. Draw Your Reader Into a Story
While I plan to write a future post entirely on the topic of "story", I want to touch on its importance here. Story, at its heart, is tapping into the most basic structure of conveying truth. Story is the motion of characters through time, which even the most inactive, mundane human life partakes in. We live story and relate to story. Tell a story and draw your reader in.
Exercise: Think of a one-sentence truth that you want to write a blog post on. Now find a historical or personal story that relays that truth and write it.
7. Simplify; Clarify
Impact is amplified in simplicity. Simplicity is found in clarity. If an idea is easier communicated in one sentence than in one paragraph, choose the sentence.
Exercise: After writing a blog post, simplify it into one sentence. If it lacks the potency of the full post, add one more sentence. Continue until your message is clear and to the point.
8. Live (Bonus)
How incredibly difficult it is to write about a topic you don't understand. Experiences fuel your writing by exposing you to previously unknown truths, providing the stories through which that truth was discovered, and lending credibility and weight to your opinion.
Exercise: In the next five days, do one thing that scares you. For bonus points, do one thing that scares you each week. (Example: contact your hero, start your blog =), ask for that cute barista's number, learn a new skill, register for an online class)
As you get into the habit of writing, refining your skill, technique and style, understand that these are meant to act as guides for you - gutter rails at the bowling alley. As you stumble upon methods that work for you, take the railing off. Best of luck!