Bloggers toss out a lot of content.
We’re the serial monogamists of the writing world – forever working on a new article, loving it until we publish the next one, and moving on in an endless succession of text production. Our job, as Merlin Mann so eloquently puts it, is to “make the clacketty noise on our keyboards until the right words fall out.” The trouble with this is that eventually, even the best words don’t feel right, and we lose ourselves in the production.
“Oh,” we say, “I don’t really have to put the time into this post, because the next one will be published tomorrow.”
In Cranking, an essay on failing to prioritize a book on setting priorities, Merlin talks about the manner in which he’s developing his work for the book he’s under contract to deliver. He’s struggling, in part because he’s not an author. He’s a writer, sure, but as we’ve discussed before, authorship and writing are different things. Merlin’s having the issue many transitioning tradespeople have – he’s trying to apply the method that works in one medium to another, and failing (as he says, not me). Does this mean his book will suck? Quite the opposite – should it ever be released, I think it’ll end up being a canonical example of what productivity books are for; helping people get their work done better, quicker, sooner.
Why is this a big deal for bloggers?
Because I’m in the same boat, and I think a lot of you are too. While some people are diving back into the things that work for them, there’s a feeling that not everything we do actually counts. One of the thing that I read from Merlin’s essay, and some of the reactions to it, is that while prioritization is key, making the work you actually do more meaningful is a great way to avoid burnout, while being more productive.
So let’s talk about some of the things you can do – for yourself – which might just help keep you in the zone, and make sure the posts you publish are worth your time.
1. Limit the number of categories on your blog.
When you force yourself to write only about stated subjects, you automatically increase the likelihood that your articles will be more impressive over time. By keeping yourself to a strict regime of topics, and retaining an open approach to themes that address those topics, you’re going to do better work. If even a cinnamon toast can come back to creative work, for example, you’re on the right track.
2. Research is your friend.
Do your discovery! While not ever post requires fact-checking, looking into your subject matter can almost always provide some additional resources. Maybe someone’s already related food to sales pages, for example, and you’re writing the same theme from an entirely different voice. Referencing existing material can be as helpful for fact checking as it can be for making sure you don’t sound too old hat.
3. Make sure you’re filling in all the fields.
Search engine optimization aside, it’s generally a good idea to go for completeness. Have you referenced everything you need to? If you’re in an SEO-ready blogging environment, are you entering your own titles and meta descriptions? Have you tagged and categorized the blog post properly – or are you relying on your defaults to cover these things for you? Just like you can’t steal third base from first, you can’t expect a blog post to do well in search without some tender care. And, as much as we love social media, it really does contribute to the per-post feeling of ephemera.
4. Make every possible connection.
Cross-linking posts, and linking out to other bloggers, is important; links are part of how the web works, not to mention being important for SEO. At their core, however, links are a great way to expose new readers to your existing material – which will help you feel like the things you’ve done in the past actually mean something. More than just increasing the value of the work you do today, cross-linking your blog posts can also increase the value of the work you did last month, last year, or even further in the past.
5. Ask questions.
Unless you’re writing a research paper, don’t be afraid to leave things open to interpretation, and encouraging discussion. Even if you end up with an in situ comment count of zero, you might be causing ripples – giving people something to respond to can help then find their way as well, and may end up in some ancillary social sharing, a trackback, or other forms of off-site engagement.
Back to you – what have we missed?
There are a lot of ways to make your blog posts more effective – what works for you? How do you maintain interest, without feeling overwhelmed by the inner editor, or worse, by the inner apathetic? How do you make your work count for more than you once thought it might?