We need to talk about content.
How to create blog content and how to write blog content. Those may sound like they’re the same thing, but they’re not.
Creating blog content means brainstorming and taking notes – coming up with ideas and fitting those ideas into the larger structure and theme of your blog.
Writing blog content means getting ideas out of your head and written down. It means editing your text, formatting it, and getting it ready to be posted.
Ideas vs Implementation
I suspect most people approach writing great blog content as a process that’s centered around having great ideas. And, yeah, great ideas are part of it. But even though I’ve only been writing bloggy-type content for a couple of weeks, I’ve gotten over the concept of the “great idea” pretty quickly.
At this point, I can honestly tell you that the “great idea” part only makes up maybe 25% of what it takes to produce a solid, compelling piece of content. The other 75% is a set of mechanistic puzzle pieces that come together and enable your great ideas to flow out of your brain and onto the paper as clear, concise, and nicely formatted posts.
By the way, not all of your ideas will be great. Some will be just ok. Some will be bad. But neither of those is a big problem. Write the content anyway and see what happens. I’ve had ok ideas that turned into great ideas, bad ideas that turned into 5 pieces of good content, and…yeah, some bad ideas that stayed bad and had to be thrown away. But that doesn’t happen very often, so – just by the numbers – it’s a worthwhile risk to take.
You’re going to need some ideas of what to write about, yes, but even if you’re sitting there right now with zero content ideas, I know there’s something that’s pushing you get started. Write about that!
At the end of the day, writing great blog content involves:
- Working the Mechanics of Writing
- Exploiting your Writing Environment
- Understanding Conversational Complexity
- Coming to Grips with Formatting
- Top notch Editing
Let’s talk about each of these things a little bit more and see if we can come up with a standardized system we can use to produce high quality content.
As an aside, I don’t live in the woods with my fuzzy wolf brother spirit animals, so yeah, I know nobody uses paper anymore (RIP Dunder Mifflin), especially when they’re writing blog content on WordPress. But come on, what am I supposed to say? ePaper? Screen? Keyboard? Those all sound dumb, and you know what I mean.
THE MECHANICS OF WRITING
The single most important thing in my content creation process has been my ability to type. The simple ability to quickly get words out of my head and onto paper provides a fluidity and flow that’s hard to overstate.
I’ve found that being able to type has an enormous effect on my work flow. It lets me fluidly put my thoughts onto paper, almost in real time. That means I can capture things as they float through my head and stay up to speed with ideas as they occur to me. Obviously, the product I end up with needs to be edited – a lot – but being able to physically record ideas before they flitter out of my brain forever is an asset that’s hugely important.
If you can’t type, don’t start launching missiles quite yet. You’re living in the future my good friend! You have options. I didn’t want to stick all that in this article and push it off scope, so check out the link below.
THE WRITING ENVIRONMENT
The whole point of this blog is to document, in real time, what I’m doing and learning as I get my other blog – the first one I’ve ever created – up and running. As such, there are some interesting circumstances that pop up from time to time.
This is one of those interesting circumstances.
As I write this, my main blog – the blog that this blog is about – isn’t even up and running yet. Nor is THIS blog. Crazy.
So far, between this blog and the other blog, I’ve written probably 20 or 25 content pieces for a total of somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000 words. All of this has been done in the no-frills environment of my laptop’s basic text editor.
There are advantages and disadvantages to creating content this way, but that’s not really the point. The critical thing to understand is that you don’t need some super fancy online repository of wonderfulness in order to effectively create content.
Imagine that you want to make some spaghetti. You go to the store to buy tomato sauce and there’s an entire AISLE of different sauces from roughly one million different tomato sauce companies. That’s an almost unbelievable amount of choice, and each choice has it’s own pluses and minuses.
Getting bogged down by the detailed specifics of HOW you’re going to write your blog posts is just going to kill your inertia and you’ll end up writing zero blog posts.
But none of that should matter. I mean, if you don’t like garlic then you probably shouldn’t buy the Extra Super Garlic Bomb sauce. But, aside from that super clear and easy to understand trigger, it’s all just tomato sauce. Grab one, take it home, and put it on your noodles. Done.
If it turns out that you liked the sauce you bought, great. It’s even easier the next time you need to buy some sauce. And if you didn’t like it? Repeat the same initial process – just freaking pick one and try it.
The mind shift here is that it’s easy to spend inordinate amounts of time getting bogged down by all the choices surrounding us. But, if you want to eat spaghetti, then THAT’S what you should be focused on. What you should NOT be focused on is the five thousand different sauces you COULD choose, which sauce best represents your internal spirit animal, or whatever other ridiculous criteria you could theoretically impose on the conceptually simple act of buying tomato sauce.
That seems obvious and straightforward, but it’s easy to lose sight of this basic concept when the array of choices is right in front of us.
Getting bogged down by the detailed specifics of HOW you’re going to write your blog posts is just going to kill your inertia and you’ll end up writing zero blog posts. I mean, yeah, it’s fun and kind of rewarding to spend a bunch of time “researching” various editing platforms, note taking apps, and integrated office suites. But all that does is waste time. Time you could be using to write quality content.
So this subtopic has a reverse message – it’s not about finding the right writing environment as much as it is about avoiding the tendency to waste lots of time finding the perfect writing environment.
This very post is evidence that you don’t need a web host, wordpress, or anything else to write blog content. All you need is a basic text editor and some time.
Along the way, you may find that your current environment isn’t working very well for you and seek out a new one. And that’s ok, because we all have places and ways in which we work best. Judging by the majority of pictures people post on their blog articles, apparently the best places to blog are sailboats, sunwashed autumnal hilltops, and RV patios.
If you decide to shake things up and find (or build) a more effective writing environment, keep in mind that the process is the same as it would be for tomato sauce – find a new option and try it. Don’t stand in the aisle all day worrying about sauces and not eating spaghetti.
It’s really easy for me to bang out paragraphs and paragraphs of dense, intricate text. I have some background in technical writing, which is sort of the king of the hill when it comes to dense, intricate text, and that’s the hill to which I retreat when I get in “the zone” during my writing sessions.
Which, of course, is terrible when it comes to writing blog content.
Conversational complexity for blog content is a big topic, and I’ve given it its very own page so I can talk about it in more detail. I can hammer home the basics right here, though.
When you’re writing content for your blog, you’re probably not writing for a room full of rocket surgeons or brain scientists. Or maybe you are. It doesn’t matter who your target audience is, it matters that you actively try to write for that audience.
If you’re writing technical specifications for rocket people, you’ll end up with dense text that’s unapproachable for non-rocket-people. Which is ok, because your target audience is rocket people.
On the other hand, if your target audience is millennials who want updates on your paragliding adventures or latest RV destination, you sure don’t want to write content that reads like it was written for those rocket guys.
Some of this stuff is intuitive. I intentionally tone down my tendencies to write dense, complicated sentences when I’m creating content for my blogs. But, it turns out that there’s a whole side of this that is NOT intuitive, and that’s been interesting for me to learn about.
The complexity of your writing can actually be scored according to a number of different metrics. These metrics, when taken together, give you an idea of how hard or easy your content is to read. I’ve spent a few hours reading about this and it’s already changed the way I write in two ways:
- My “intuitive” understanding of how to write blog content is growing. I find myself writing sentences that are less dense, paragraphs that are more tightly focused, and splitting concepts into separate pieces of content rather than building huge 5,000 word essays
- I’m regularly using online tools to analyze my content as I target an appropriate level of complexity.
You can read this piece about how complexity is scored and how you can check the complexity of your content to get the nitty gritty. Because things that are complex also tend to be long, here’s some good in-a-nutshell discussion.
This is a topic I knew almost nothing about a few days ago. Though it makes sense looking back, successfully creating actionable and interesting blog content requires some attention to how you’re formatting the words that you’re writing.
At a basic level, examples are easy to think of. If, for example, you were to write 1,000 words of the best freaking content ever, but didn’t use any punctuation, it would be pretty hard to read. Likewise, if you didn’t use any punctuation AND you didn’t put any spaces between the words, you’d possibly have a modern art commentary on the nature of a post-media society that would make Gabriel García Márquez proud as a peacock, but you sure wouldn’t have a great blog post.
This is something I conceptually struggle with, but I (like you) need to accept that if the goal is to communicate ideas, then that communication will happen most effectively when the style is matched to the audience. You have to speak in different formats to different audiences, regardless of the audience’s innate ability to understand the ideas being presented.
Overall, the way that you format your blog posts has to recognize some inherent truths about how people consume the content you’re creating:
- Lots of people read on mobile devices
- People tend to skim
- People have a limited amount of time
Whether these things are good or bad is immaterial. They are what they are, and they are the way it is.
Keeping these things in mind, smart people have, indeed, come up with some basic rules for formatting a great blog post. I don’t agree with all of them, but remember that I’m new to this game, so that may change. I read probably 10 different primary sources on this topic, and some common recommendations emerged.
- Keep paragraphs short
- Break longer articles in a series of digestible chunks by using subheadings
- Use bullet points and lists
- Add useful images every 300-500 words
- Use callouts (highlighting important text in some way) and internal links to expand ideas
Like I said, I don’t agree with all of the discussion on how blog posts should be formatted, but I’m trying to come to terms with it. My objections are philosophic, not mechanistic, and they probably border on esoteric or get-off-my-grassism. But, despite my objections, I’m forced to deal with the world the way it is, and there are some realities of blog writing and blog reading that are probably inescapable.
Overall, people don’t read blogs the same way they’d read an article in The Atlantic. If you want to get your ideas across, you’ll have to deal with that reality and approach your audience in a way that makes sense.
I spend almost twice as long editing a piece of new blog content as I do writing it. Part of this is because I can type fast enough that I’m able to write according to whatever is going through my brain at that moment.
This style of writing is a great way to capture word count, but it also invariably leads to first drafts that are ugly.
My editing process goes something like this:
- Figure out if the main idea is the idea I started with – Sometimes I start writing with the goal of covering a particular topic, but I end up talking about something else.
- Figure out if any of the wandering my brain did while writing is worthy of its own independent content.
- Clean up the remaining content and read it out loud
- Look for linking opportunities
- Run the whole thing through some readability checkers
- Save it, put it away, and come back to it in a couple days to go over it once more
- Mark it ready for posting
You can read more my editing process for blog content if you want. It’s a good general guide to the process I follow.
I think the difficulty of editing, and the amount of time editing takes was a surprise. I’m not new to writing, which means I’m not new to reviewing things I’ve written. But writing for blogs IS a new activity for me, and it needs a different kind of eye. I think things will get faster as I gain some experience, but I have to be honest – if either of my blogs starts to generate any kind of real income, one of the first expenses I’ll take on is hiring a good copy editor.
So that’s a good overview of the process I’m following for turning ideas in my head into posts that can go on the blog. Some of it is probably a little old-media and will get streamlined as time goes on, but some of it is just me. You’re likely to find parts of this process useful to your own workflow and to find parts of this superfluous or counterproductive. That’s fine. In fact, it’s probably good. Your process – just like your writing – should have it’s own voice and expression. Understand the basics, understand the goal, and build an efficient process to get there.