I’m always curious how others come up with blog post, so I figured I’d share my approach after 11 years of blogging.
Being a writer of any sort means paying attention, and blogging has kept me on a constant, quiet lookout for moments of insight: a topic I find myself or my team struggling through, a conversation or article that touches on a bigger theme.
These sorts of moments happen unpredictably in all sorts of places. When they do, I jot them down. If I’m in front of my laptop, I’ll write a headline or a few sentences in Word. More likely, I use my phone to send myself a short email with the blog title in the subject line and a few notes. These emails are sketchy at best, and they’re occasionally frustratingly indecipherable. But they often are enough to go on as long as I get back to them quickly.
I go back to these sketches of ideas on the train to or from work. I dedicate 10-15 minutes to the first draft of each post. If things are going well, that’s enough time for a decent rough draft. Or, I discover that the idea isn’t a post after all, and I let it go.
I save these as drafts on my laptop, and at any given moment I have 10-20 drafts at various stages of doneness. I label them as drafts so they’re easy to find, and I’ll return to them from time to time. All of this happens in Microsoft Word.
The morning before my publish deadline, I read through near-finished drafts and find a post that feels right at that moment. This is a time of polishing. I cut as many unnecessary words as possible, especially qualifiers. I push for specificity in my language and try to breathe life into the points I’m making (not “trying to make,” which I just edited out) with specific examples. Ideally, I proofread, though I should do a better job of that by reading the whole post out loud.
Letting posts sit, as drafts, for a few days or weeks is the biggest change I’ve made to my approach since I started blogging. I made the shift when I shifted to fewer posts (1-2 / week) than I used to publish (3-4 /week). I’ve no doubt that posts are stronger thanks to this change, but ideally I wouldn’t have traded quantity for quality.
Nearly everything I’m describing happens on the train I take to and from work. I do my best writing first thing in the morning, usually at the beginning of the week when my head is clear. I mostly edit at night.
Having a place—the train—where I do the writing helps: whether it’s sitting in the same chair or the same train, putting yourself in the same location to write seems required for almost all writers. As Stephen King famously said, “This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. Or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.” Exactly.
My last step is to put the posts into WordPress, do a final reread and make last tweaks, and I hit the ‘Schedule’ button.
The best part is, eleven years and more than 1,100 posts in, when I hit that ‘Schedule’ button I still have absolutely no ideas which posts will have a big impact and which ones won’t. That’s all part of the process, one that’s equal parts faith and commitment.
(As a bonus, if you’re specifically interested in becoming a blogger, this post has helped a lot of people: What I Talk About When I Talk About Blogging.)