How to start a blog: Part Two
One of the main services we offer at Engage is blog management. Blogging is a key component of any sales and marketing strategy – it’s a cost-effective means of lead generation, a sustainable investment in site traffic, a valuable channel for communications and a great way to engage with clients and introduce your products or services.
In Part One, we looked at establishing the What, Why and Who of starting a blog. This hopefully gave you a clear idea of the path to take with your blog. We’re now going to look at How.
Start with some head space
I’m not going to lie, blogging is hard work. You have to come up with a strong idea and then write a compelling text that people will want to read and get value from. And you already have 150 other things to do this week… plus the phone is ringing, emails are arriving, colleagues are dropping by to chat about that thing you need to organise and there are client meetings you have to get to.
Work is distracting, and writing requires a distraction-free period of time, so you’ll want to lock your office door, shut down the email programme and set your phone to Airplane Mode. It’s also a good idea to tell your colleagues that you’d like to be undisturbed for half an hour/an hour, depending on how fast you write.
You might want to start with five minutes of meditation to clear your mind, or have a coffee or even go for a walk. Whatever works for you – try different things until you find the tactic that gets you in the right frame of mind.
The way you write is up to you, and you’ll have to try some different things until you find the quirky ritual that gets your creative juices flowing. It could be writing in bed (Orwell), nearly naked (Cheever) or drunk (Ogilvy)! Perhaps it’s the way you organise your office – Dickens had to have specific items on his desk. Or what you wear – Joyce famously wrote in a white coat. I like to have insanely loud music on while I write, but some people require absolute silence.
Ready, steady, write!
However, don’t force it. There are some days I know I’m just not going to be able to write, so I leave it and come back fresh the next day. I also find that I write best first thing in the morning (after coffee, obviously!), before my brain has filled up with that day’s ‘stuff’.
You’re now ready to write your article. You have your blog plan on the wall, you’ve identified the topic you’re going to write about and done any research you needed to back up your arguments. Now you just have to get the words down… And it’s at this point that your mind goes blank!
So, here’s the good news: you don’t have to start at the beginning! I’ll often start writing the middle part of an article and only go back to do the introduction when I’ve finished. Lots of people like to start by jotting ideas down on paper. You could also write down a list of bullet points for the main areas you’d like to cover, which will help you give structure to the piece.
You should consider keeping notes that you can later use for writing. I have a pad by the bed and one by my computer where I write down random thoughts, insights and ideas that pop into my head (usually just before I fall asleep). I read through these regularly and use them in my writing.
Let it all out
With all your preparation to hand, you can finally write your article. Just let the words come out; don’t try to edit as you go. Get all your ideas out of your head and onto the page. Read through once to make sure you didn’t forget anything. If there’s anything you’re not happy with – something not very well articulated, or a statement that you feel could be backed up with a statistic or a quote – highlight it in red. Now save and close your document and move on with your day.
At some point (I always like to leave it overnight at least, but this will depend on your schedule) open your document back up and read through it with fresh eyes. Fix those things that you felt needed more input and now re-read the entire thing and check that:
- the article delivers what the introduction promises
- it flows in a logical way
- you’ve finished one idea before moving on to the next
- the article has a beginning, middle and end
While you’re doing this, it’s important to look out for superfluous words or phrases and get rid of them. Look for places where you may have said the same thing in two different ways. Simplify your sentences. Take away anything that doesn’t drive the article forward. If you do this right, you may find you’ve lost half of what you originally wrote, but trust me that is a good thing!
Before you publish, get someone else to read your article. No matter how good you are at writing, you need an editor. Do you imagine that the really great authors like Ernest Hemingway could simply send their books straight to the printing press? No! He had an editor (called Max Perkins; the same guy who cut 90,000 words from Thomas Wolfe’s first novel. That’s right, 90,000 words!).
Get your editor to read your article and tell you what doesn’t make sense, what’s missing, what needs moving around, etc. After you’ve made those final edits, ask someone to proofread your text (an obsessive-compulsive grammar pedant, if you can find one). We all make mistakes when we write, and a post full of typos is distracting, so get it fixed! It’s not a good idea to proofread your own writing, but if you really don’t have someone else to do it for you, then print it off and read it out loud. This way you should pick up most of the mistakes.
I know this post has only looked at the practicalities of writing, so in a future article, I’ll take a look at style, tone and ways to make your writing a pleasure to read.