Today’s Zero to Hero challenge feels very much aimed at those who struggle to write, particularly on a regular basis. My current followers will probably know that’s not me – there have been very few occasions where I haven’t managed my aim of two posts per week. The quality perhaps varies, but the quantity is there, and I agree with WordPress’s rhetoric that the best way to get better at something is just to keep doing it.
In person I’m generally very verbal too. Typically, I also wear my heart on my sleeve (members of my family will often sarcastically request that I tell them what I really think, because I don’t tend to hold back with my opinions!). So, fortunately, writer’s block doesn’t really hinder me most of the time: I have opinions, I’ll post them on the internet even if the internet doesn’t care.
With all of this in mind, I’ve decided to take a different approach to the topic of the day and write about how I construct a post. English teachers: look away now. This is far from textbook, and I’m potentially on the brink of changing it, but this is how I currently work.
- Each of my posts is written in Word, rather than straight into WordPress: I save each post as a file, just in case WordPress ever goes bang! My files are a backup of my blog. The geeky filing system goes further… Posts are saved with the go live date as the filename, and are saved in my blog folder, then moved to a “published posts” folder once they are up. I have a spreadsheet which summarises the post date, category, topic, word count and any other special notes (such as social media reminders or special mentions they got). I recently added an “external coverage” tab as a way to monitor month-by-month coverage of pingbacks, other mentions and where my work has been cross-posted
- I write in a very stream of consciousness manner. Some of my ideas are things which have been on my mind, sometimes I post about issues which have cropped up during my working day and other times I spark off a piece I’ve seen in the wider media. The latter generally causes me to respond, a “here’s what I think about this” type of piece. Sometimes I’ll review a product, service or event. In any case, my posts aren’t planned beyond the knowledge of where I want them to end. How they get there is just a matter of what comes out
- I’ve always been the person who edits as they go. One of my worst habits is not re-reading my work (but my main reason for doing so is so that I don’t obsess). I work very quickly – some posts are completed in 20 minutes, the ones which generally take me longer are those which require a bit of research, rather than being purely opinion-based. If I think something needs changing around or re-phrasing, it gets done as I’m writing or not at all
- As an offshoot from editing, I have a “house style”. Sounds self-important, is actually very anal. During one of my event management jobs, I worked in the company’s Creative department, where house style was of critical importance (particularly because we were an agency, and sticking to client-style was one of the most important factors in retaining clients). My previous job involved a lot of web editing and proofing, so again my keen eye was honed. It’s simple things: how and when I capitalise; which type of English spelling I use; punctuation formatting (you may notice that the final sentence doesn’t have a full stop/period when I’m using bullet points); numbering policy (one to nine are spelled, anything over 10 is in numeric characters)… It’s important to me that my blog looks, feels and reads in a certain way. If I can’t bear to look at it, I wouldn’t expect others to
- As important as the way I edit my blog is the voice it has. I regard the tone as fairly chatty – I think it’s similar to my conversational style, and this is important to me because I want it to seem natural. I use vocabulary I’d use when speaking… to a point. I don’t swear on the blog, so there is some sort of corporate tone to it! But generally, the words I write sound very much like my own voice. I don’t look for bigger or posher words than I’d otherwise use and, equally, I don’t try to simplify my language (I think carefully about abbreviations and definitions – if there’s something I feel my readership need to know, I’ll describe it, and I try to obey common etiquette with abbreviations by using the full version first time around and then shortening to an acronym). Again, establishing this policy has helped me to relax and at the same time remain consistent
- When I first started blogging, I Googled how to be good at it. It sounds silly even to me, but I wanted to be just a little bit informed. I’ve found this page really useful (my biggest question was regarding length of posts and SEO, and this piece helped a lot). I aim for my posts to be at least 500 words, but try to stay under 1,000. I know most people don’t like to read too many words, I want my posts to be punchy, skimmable, entertaining. Hopefully I manage this. Some of my posts break the rules (I think that’s important occasionally!), mainly because brevity is sometimes unrealistic
- The finished product gets copied and pasted into WordPress, I tinker with the settings, add all of my tags and prepare the first tweet. I’m a twitter devotee in my personal life as well as my blogging world, so I love networking in this way. It’s only fairly recently that I’ve started to use Hootsuite to prepare additional tweets ahead of time. I’ve always tried to harness the power of hashtags and pictures (the section in the article I linked to above was incredibly helpful – I can tell from my stats that filenames have generated hits via search engines) to increase visibility
- If I’m lucky enough to get comments on my posts, I try to respond as soon as possible – I want to let the commenter know that I appreciate the time they took when leaving their comment. It’s great to use those conversations as inspiration and feedback, so I don’t like to miss an opportunity
So today I’ve broken the rules (for Zero to Hero, my own word limit) and lied a little: at the moment, I am a bit stuck! I’ve been asked to write a piece for a new website, which is very exciting, but inspiration is lacking. I have an idea, but giving birth to it is currently proving difficult. These things normally work their own way out given time, so I’m fairly content to wait (especially because the site owner is happily publishing some of my previous content in addition to whatever else I produce). I will, of course, be linking to the new site when I can, and publishing the piece I write for them here too.
If this post has helped anyone, I’ll be over the moon, and I’d love to hear about it. I’m happy to answer any questions you have as well, so please step forward if there’s anything you’d like to know!