My process for blogging
From my Monday question pile, my friend Angela asked:
As an active blogger and communicator, I’m curious your setup. Obviously love your content, but I’m interested in your process. I assume you’re a one man show, so I also assume you’ve got your process locked down because you’re soooo smooth, man! :) xoxo
My answer is a ramble. I tried to write this in an easy to follow way but had to scrap it because it was a lie. It turns out an honest description of how I blog is not easy to follow. Moreso, for blogging alone I’m not convinced I’m a good example for emulation. I have good basic self-discipline for writing and that’s what explains my productivity more than anything else. Part of why I enjoy blogging is freedom. I deliberately don’t approach it with the same procedural rigor other bloggers do.
For more useful advice: when I worked for WordPress.com I studied their data on which blogs were successful and studied how popular blogs worked. I wrote up two summaries of what I learned and that’s the advice I still point bloggers to: How To Get More Traffic and How To Get More Comments. It’s good, simple practical advice.
For any regular readers it’s clear I don’t have a strict process. I don’t publish on a schedule (although I’d get more traffic if I did) and I don’t post about specific topics on specific days. It’s chaotic and I don’t advise bloggers copy this, but it works for me so far.
If you forced me to shape it into a process it’d look like this:
- Wake up – be glad I’m not dead
- Write something (could be in my private journal, a draft blog post, part of a book…)
- Work until I run out of steam, or it’s finished
- When stuck, go to the gym (do something physical)
- Write again later in the day
- Do other life things
I realize this list has dubious merit. My central habit that makes it all work is the discipline of writing. It’s an internal discipline that isn’t generated by following a list of rules or magic steps. I write something nearly every day simply because I want to be a writer and writers write. There is no other way. My income comes from book royalties and speaking fees so I don’t stress about blogging schedules and such in the way many pro bloggers do.
Schedules: Sometimes I finish a post in one go. Most often I get to rough draft quality but can’t go further. But in all cases I show up the next day and either start something new, or progress something old. If I’m working on a book most of my creative energy will go towards progressing that before I’d think to blog. But sometimes the pleasure of writing something quick and publishing it instantly is just what I need to break up the long cycles of working on a book.
Roughly I post something new once or twice a week. Some weeks I do more, other weeks it’s less. But on average it’s a post or two a week. I’m more interested in creation than curation, but I see the value of both. On the curative side I often write book reviews and have had phases of posts that are mostly links or reports from events or places I’ve visited.
Posting new posts in the morning (PST) and early in the week seem to generate the most traffic. Twitter is a huge asset and drives a large part of the traffic my posts receive. I still have thousands of RSS subscribers but we’ll see if that matters anymore once Google Reader is gone. I often use the schedule feature of WordPress to plan when a post will launch days in advance. The Publicize feature, which I worked on while at WordPress.com, ensures even scheduled posts will be seen by my twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn followers.
Drafts: I have a large number of drafts in WordPress: 400+ (and a total of ~1500 published posts). Some are just a one sentence thought, or a link I want to comment on. Others are half written and a few are mostly done. I believe it’s healthy to be inefficient with writing. It’s ok not to finish many of the things I start provided I finish many too. I like having an inventory of posts in various states of completion. It means I can pick and choose based on the mood I’m in on that day and how much energy I have. I don’t see high draft counts as a waste, it’s an asset. I’m free to experiment and try crazy things with no fear. It’s my scrapbook and all creators need safe places to experiment.
Topics: I avoid writing about trends. By avoiding trends and picking timeless themes I don’t have the pressure to post this hour or this day, or to worry about who else said what already. And I know that the time I spend writing will still likely be relevant in a year or a decade, which won’t be true if I’m writing about something only relevant to the world for a week. I suspect this generates less traffic per post in the short term compared to people who chase trends, but probably more traffic in the long term (scottberkun.com has a strong long tail of old posts that generate significant traffic). Sometimes I do pick a hot topic as the hook to write about a deeper issue, but even then I know I can reuse the same post a year later when a new, but equally relevant hook, comes along.
Audience: Many of you readers found me because of one of my books. I try to make at least 50% of my posts related to the topics from those books: creativity, management, speaking and philosophy. The other 50% follows what I’m passionate, angry or curious about. This balance is reflected in my 50 best posts of all time. The mix has worked and I plan to continue (please advise if you don’t like the mix). There’s short term value in specializing more, but I plan to write until I die and I see the long term value in earning reader trust for my ability to write and think well on anything. That’s my ambition as a writer: that people want to read me at least as much for their interest in the mind doing the writing as they are in the particular topic.
Ideas: I always carry a moleskine or notepad wherever I go and I write down interesting things I hear. It’s a primary habit for finding ideas: listening, looking, experiencing and capturing. Opinion are easy to find if you’re curious and paying attention. Sometimes I just start a draft post in WordPress instead of the moleskine. I don’t care about losing these moleskines and the ideas I wrote down, but the habit of listening and writing in them is critical.
As a supplement to my habits, some readers do email or tweet links to articles they know I’d be interested in, or want me to comment on. This helps and I’m grateful to be popular enough that people care to know what I think about something.
Writing: To see how I actually write, I made this timelapsed video of me writing a 1000 word post. It explains most of the important things discussions of writing process never express well as we learn more by watching things first hand than nearly any other way.
Was this ramble of a post useful? I hope so. If you have other questions about process, leave a comment.
Thanks for sharing this, Scott. One nit, easily corrected:
s/are it’s many freedoms/are its many freedoms/
Good catch – Fixed now. Thanks.
Scott, I assure you:
For this post, as for a love letter, rambling works best. I thought your post was nice for, as you would say, “showing the mind doing the writing.”
If we were meeting in person I’d say a lot of “I agree” and “me too.” But for a comment such a list would be tedious, so I won’t. I think lots of people will read this with keen attention.
Your point about being able to write about anything–the readings being more interested in how your mind works than in what you write about–reminds me of a comment I received on my blog. The reader sarcastically asked, “Is there anything you don’t write on?” I must admit I was offended. My reaction was to further delimit my coverage. This has made it more difficult to keep up the pace on publishing, or perhaps it puts more pressure on me to keep up on the topics I have chosen. Self-discipline vs. Write-for-today? I suspect the optimal coverage is somewhere between too narrow for sufficient material to be found and whatever suits my fancy on a given day. I suspect that readers are interested both in the writer’s thinking process AND in the topic.
This is a great start to answering a lot of questions I had. Strangely, I was getting hung up on weird details like having too many drafts in WP. Time to start letting go of doing it “right,” and refocus on quality of the content. Thanks!
It’s a wonderful article here, I never expected something in this dimension, you divided the blogging process into four equal different piece, I recently took advantage of social media networks, and so far it’s been very nice.
i’m really lacking behind in some areas here, but I know that with this blogging process, blogging will have no option than being friendly.
Thanks for sharing, and do have a wonderful day ahead.
I liked the ideas section because I also used to have a diary in my bag always to notedown everything what I Get from any domain and knowledge. and afterwards these notes helps me in writing the posts for my blog.
Thank you for this post. It really allowed me to look introspectively and decide that my way of doing things is ok but it also gave me great ideas for doing it better. It was very liberating to see that perfection and schedules are not requirements for writing. I tend to look around me seeing life lessons, concepts and ideas as book titles or one liners. Some have blossomed into well developed ideas. Others have not. I love the idea of keeping a record of all your random thoughts in various stages of development in print. I suspect I’ve forgotten many of my more brilliant ideas because I wasn’t prepared to write an entire book on the subject. Thanks again for your words of wisdom.