I write a lot of blog posts. It's part of my job as a content marketer at Salesforce, but it's also something I enjoy. Among the many types of content available today, the blog post stands alone. Before I share my 10-step process for writing blog posts, here's a little background on why I think the blog format is so useful for writers:
A blog post is a happy medium between research and social content. It's not as well-researched as a 300-page book. It's more permanent than a tweet or Facebook post. It's a competently conceived thought with some evidence to back it up. A blog post also invites social commentary, just like old-school oration or debate. Most blogs have a space where readers can leave comments and respond to what they've just read. Sometimes, the comments are just as worthwhile as the post above.
Blog posts can keep up in real time. I worked in traditional book publishing a few years ago. In that industry, a piece of content requires months of painstaking revisions before it sees the light of day (or the light of an iPad screen). In a print run, do-overs aren't an option. Contrast that with digital content, which can be real-time, relevant, and immediately updated with breaking information. (Of course, long-form content and books are still critical to many aspects of life and learning. See my September interview with The Fault in Our Stars author John Green.)
The medium is perfect for stylistic experimentation. While I do suggest proofreading blog posts and meeting certain formatting standards, your creativity is really the limit. If you want to experiment with a unique sentence structure, you can. If you want to add updated facts or a different perspective later, you also can. If you want to add HTML5 or animated GIFs or create your own blog series, you can. Because a blog post is a living, breathing slice of your own brain. Now you have a friend in the publishing business!
Out of necessity, I've become a reasonably efficient blogger. During three work days last week, I wrote four new blog posts (not including this one), wrote about 60% of an already started post, and edited another person's post. I may not win any Nobel Prizes for Literature for those posts, but I did my best to research my topics and express my ideas clearly while managing time with other projects. I began paying attention to what I do each time I write a blog post and synthesized my routine into ten steps.
Your mileage may vary, but these are the basic steps I recommend (and follow) when writing a blog post. Yes, even this one.
- Write the title. You can always change it later.
- If writing a post that you want people to find when searching, consult Google Trends or a similar tool. Also feel free to laugh in the face of these tools and relish your unique, quirky title.
- Write some introductory content to get people on the same mental page as you. Could be one sentence; could be five paragraphs. It really depends on how far you are down the rabbit hole of your idea.
- Jot down each of your intended main points as you're thinking of them.This will guard you against the horrible reality of forgetting some truly great point you intended to make. Sometimes our brains go much faster than we can type, so I suggest putting line breaks between the ideas you know you want to include as you're thinking of them.
- Fill in the content. There is no way to explain this other than: undergo the occasionally miserable process of actually writing.
- Consider a conclusion. Conclusions can be hokey and sing-songy. Sort of a more adult "and they all lived happily ever after!" But sometimes, a conclusion is a nice way to leave people with a single cohesive memory of your post. And some people will only read your intro and conclusion. Maybe write a few sentences at the end for those people.
- Look at the whole thing. Any ways to make it more consistent? For example, are there supporting links with every main point except one?
- Make it easier to read. Do you need numbered lists, bullets, just shorter paragraphs? Bring out your inner editor or English teacher.
- Give your brain at least 15-30 minutes to switch to a different mental task, then come back and edit again. Unless you're legitimately breaking news for the New York Times, you can give yourself this. Delete unnecessary words and thoughts that go nowhere. Those extra thoughts can comprise your next post.
- Socialize. While this may not be technically part of writing a blog post, it's extremely important if you want your work to be enjoyed by anyone but yourself. Share your blog post with the world. Email or LinkedIn-message it to friends and colleagues who may enjoy it. And don't forget to follow up with commenters. It's just the decent thing to do.
And that's how I write a blog post. Are there other QC processes or editorial questions I should add to my list? Let me know in a comment or send me a tweet: @youngheike.