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One of the reasons we started hope*writers was because we know how lonely the writing life can be. And not even in a rocking-in-the-corner kind of a way, but just straight up alone kind of way, as in “I'm doing this work without other people around and don't have anyone to ask my questions.”
When you feel alone in your work, it can be easy to think that you're the only one who doesn't know what she's doing, or to assume that everyone else knows some kind of secret that you haven't figured out yet. One way that shows up for me is in my writing routine.
For years I struggled and limped my way through, thinking I wasn't doing it right because I can't, for the life of me, stick to any kind of editorial calendar. For you, it may be a different thing. Maybe you think you write too slow, too hastily, too late in the day or not often enough.
But after countless conversations with other writers, I've learned what may sound obvious but is often still a relief to hear: there is no one right way to write. There's no one right way to craft a blog post or write a book or pitch an article. We all have our own personalities, quirks, preferences, and seasons of life.
So this is me, declaring that you are free to do it your own way!
Having said that, sometimes it still helps to see how someone else does their work – to see their process, to peek into their rhythm, and to learn from their way so that we can be more self-aware about our own.
That's why I'm sharing with you this behind-the-scenes peek into writing a blog post I published a few weeks ago. Ready? Here we go!
1. Live the story.
On a plane, I experience
life-threatening mild turbulence and fumble around in my music library for the exact right song to listen to on my phone that will distract me and save my life. But I can't find it easily because I don't have a playlist specifically for experiencing turbulence.
2. Realize the story has some universal truth to it.
Days after I arrive home, I think about that playlist again and consider how smart it would be to have a “turbulence playlist” for times of plane anxiety or just plain anxiety. Consider making it into a blog post.
3. Start a draft and save for later.
Open a draft blog post and title it “turbulence playlist” for now. Then, forget about it for a week.
(Bear in mind this isn't the only post ruminating in my mind at this time. I think I was finishing up another post to publish that day. So I just tucked this one away for later.)
When I have the idea this could be a blog post, I don't have time to write about it and also don't yet have a complete perspective of how the story fits in with the promise I've made to my reader, which is this: “Whatever you find here will always help you create space for your soul to breathe.”
So I waited.
4. Choose photos.
When I revisit this draft a week or so later, I first go to my photo library on my computer. Images are a huge part of blog posts to me – both as a reader and as a writer. I always want to choose photos that will not only match the message of the particular post but, again, help to create space for the reader's soul to breathe.
Because of that, a lot of my workflow depends on whether or not I have an image to use. I won't publish a post without one. I keep a “Stock Blog Images” folder in my photos app on my laptop of my own images.
I am always taking photos and collecting them in this folder because I love it and it's life-giving for me. I don't always know how I will use a particular image, but I know if I like a perspective, color, or scene, I'll eventually find a place for it.
Every image on my blog for at least the past two years I took with my iPhone. More often than not, I choose images before I write the content of my posts. I chose these two images to include in the post I'm working on about having a turbulence playlist:
Once I choose the photos, I resize them, label them, and upload them into the blog post draft.
5. Decide on post format.
I decide fairly early on in the crafting of this post that I want to include my actual song playlist. So I'm considering this blog post to be one I call a list post (rocket science, I tell you).
Though I don't follow an editorial calendar, after 10 years of blog writing I have found a rhythm that works for me, and that rhythm includes 4 types of posts:
- Essay – thoughtful + reflective, ex: Hope From Space After Super Tuesday
- Lists – favorite finds, books, music, ex: What We Learned link ups
- Weekend Links – a list of good reads from around the Internet, ex: For Your Weekend
- Monday Prayers – ex: A Prayer for a Hopeful Vision
By far, the essay posts take the most energy and creativity to write but they also provide the pillar content for what I'm trying to do on my blog. The blog used to be made up almost entirely of these essay-type posts until I started to write books and realized I was going to have to do something differently on the blog or I would burn out and die.
Alternating between essay-type posts and more light-hearted lists and links helps to vary the content for both me and the reader.
Since this particular post is a List Post which, generally that means the story will be more light-hearted and the focus of the post will be on the list.
6. Make the list.
I have to decide what form I want my playlist to take. I wonder if having a Spotify playlist will be easiest for the reader. I decide yes, it will be.
Try to sign in to Spotify.
Can't remember my password.
Request a password change.
Finally sign in for real.
Spotify crashes and I remember that my computer doesn't play well with this app for some reason.
Google how to fix it.
Follow the directions.
Spotify keeps crashing.
An hour passes.
Decide to just share the list using Amazon links. Here's a screenshot of what that looks like.
Linking each song individually to Amazon takes forever. I do it anyway.
7. Write the story.
As I've been making my list, in the back of my mind I'm thinking about the angle I want to share this list from. I meander in several different directions until I decide what I want to say. This is often the part where I will set a timer for 20 minutes and write without stopping. When the timer goes off, I stop and edit. Sometimes I set it for less time than that. There's no wrong and there's no rule.
Once I'm satisfied with the story content, it's time to choose a title.
8. Choose a title.
Titles are hard and take me a while. Sometimes I think of the title before I even write the post, but usually I do it last.
For this post, I start with this title: Why Everyone Needs a Turbulence Playlist.
But I didn't want to write a post that had to convince the reader of something. I'm not in the mood for that. I pitch the word “why” and start again.
Then I try this out: How to Create a Turbulence Playlist.
But I'm not really telling them how to create one. I'm just sharing my own. Finally, I land here:
A Playlist for the Nervous Traveler. Spring break is coming up and I know people will be traveling for that and maybe even anticipating summer travel. I decide “nervous traveler” might hook people more than “turbulence playlist” – then it applies to all kinds of traveling and not only airplane travel.
9. Create a graphic.
Decide on a graphic concept. Take screenshots of 12 album covers from the songs on the playlist and upload them into PicMonkey. Use a variation of the title, play around with fonts, spacing, style, and color. Finish, but this feels like it takes longer than it should (about 45 minutes).
Insert graphic into the post. Then proof-read, edit, preview, repeat.
Publish the post before my feed is scheduled to go out (I have it set up in MailChimp to go out to subscribers at 11 am EST. If I don't hit publish by 10:50 am, it won't go out until the next day.)
Read post again after it's published.
10. Share on social.
I don't use Edgar or HootSuite right now – I juts manually share my posts.
Today that means creating a version of the graphic for Instagram.
Head back to PicMonkey to make another collage, this time I make it square.
It takes me a while to decide if I want to put words on it or not – I decide not to, as I want the post to mix in well with the rest of the images currently on my instagram profile.
Here is the post I end up sharing on Instagram.
And here is how that image looks in comparison to the other images around it in my Instagram feed at the time.
At this point, I have spent my entire morning crafting this blog post, from the time I get home from taking the kids to school (8:30) until about 11:30 if you include the Instagram share. That doesn't include all of the thinking I did about the post before I even sat down to write it.
Admittedly, this post took longer than normal because of all the links and I don't always create graphics. But I wanted you to see the step-by-step process of a particular post just so you could see everything that could go into it.
Here are some final tips for you based on some questions I saw in the Facebook group:
Q: When is the best time to post?
A: Whenever you want to post.
There is no perfect time to post, but the key is to keep it simple and consistent. We teach our readers what to expect, so if you post every week on Wednesday, they come to expect a post every week on Wednesday.
If you're first starting out, try posting once or twice a week, at about the same time. Don't be afraid to experiment! There is no wrong.
Q: How often should I post?
A: As often as you want.
The worst reason to publish a blog post is “because you haven't posted in a while.” And the worst opening line of a blog post is “I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while.” No one is keeping track and it just makes the post sound like it's all about you because it kind of is.
Instead, serve your reader. And if you don't have anything to write that will serve your reader, wait until you do.
Q: Should I have an editorial calendar?
A: If you want!
I know, all of these answers are the same. But it's true! You are the boss of your blog, not the other way around.
If you are asking that question, chances are you are not someone for whom editorial calendars come naturally. Because if you were, you would probably already be using one.
I've tried to schedule posts a month in advance and it's just not how I roll. If I have an idea, I will jot it down in my bullet journal or save it in a draft like I mentioned in this post. Then, I'll let it marinate, simmer, and grow.
Every now and then a post will come to me so quickly and clearly that I will write it and publish it right away – 20 minutes. It's rare, but it happens.
I don't have a posting schedule. Instead, I tend to follow a rhythm. (See number 5 above).
If I schedule too far in advance, the writing isn't as fun for me personally. But you may be different so do what works for you.
Q: How do you decide what to write about?
A: I use a filter.
If I have an idea, an inspiration, a perspective, or a story I want to share, first it must go through what I call a filter – for my blog, that filter is this: I want to help you create space for your soul to breathe. If my idea, inspiration, perspective or story makes it through that filter, then I'm allowed to put it on the blog.
Beyond that, anything is fair game! I can write about my family, my house, or what happened on Tuesday morning as long as, in the end, a reader will leave that post with a little more room for her soul to breathe.
Q: How do you write a great title?
A: Titles are so hard!
Here are some great resources for writing great headlines.
When I get stuck on a headline, here are some formulas I try on:
- Choosing a ____ that's Right for You
- The __(number)__ Pitfalls of _____
- Who Else Wants ______?
- Little Known Ways to ______
- Have a _____ You Can Be Proud Of
- What Everybody Ought to Know About ______
- How to __(mundane task)__ That ___(rewarding benefit)___
These aren't fool proof, but they can get you started when you're feeling stuck.
What other questions do you have? Leave them in the comments!
Oh – and here is the finished post I walked you through if you want to see how it all turned out – A Playlist for the Nervous Traveler.
Again, if you're visiting from Emily's newsletter, we've made this post available to you as a sample of what we do over here at hope*writers – we hope you enjoy it! Most of the content on the site is members only, so if you click around you'll probably discover that. For full access to our growing content library, simply visit this page and join today!