I had no idea how hard this would be – learning to blog – well, I mean learning to blog well.
I’ve always had a lot to say in life and have never been shy about expressing my thoughts or options, just ask any of my friends and they will be happy to confirm this for you. But, this takes on a new meaning when you are trying to brand your blog and you make a commitment to yourself and your audience to be as transparent and relevant as possible.
I’ve been blogging for just over six months and here are some key things I’ve learned.
To blog well – meaning, to create a following of new and consistent followers you need to establish the following four parameters:
- Establish your brand
- Know your audience
- Be relevant in your storyline
- And blog consistently
This is usually easier said than done, but true none-the-less.
I’m a very pragmatic person and a skilled project manager – neither serves me well as a writer. Why, because writing is not about being either pragmatic or a good project manager — writing is about exploring thoughts and concerns others have and finding a way to address both. Good blogging is about identifying a need, thought or concern your audience is having and finding a brief and engaging way to speak to those needs.
Why then does blogging seem to be a struggle for so many?
Here are my top ten reasons:
- Finding the time to blog
- Finding a topic that is interesting and relevant
- Finding a way to condense your story into 800 – 1,000 words with credibility and not turn it into a research paper
- Avoiding writers creep
- Identifying the right time of the day to write
- Creating a grabbing headline for your blog
- Writing scannable subject headings
- Finding a ‘Call to Action’
- Balancing your story with what you know and what you don’t know
- Connecting a text to self-experience in each of your stories
Some of these challenges never go away, but I’ve been able to create an outline that once I identify my topic I can get to the writing much faster and more efficiently.
Five Easy Steps to the Outline
Once you have your topic follow these next five easy steps to create your outline.
- I list what I have to mention.
- I figure out what I don’t know.
- I figure out what I do know.
- I organize the lists into related groups.
- I create summary headings.
The Problem — This is where I explain the problem that causes the symptoms I’ve described in the hook.
- Who will be reading this post?
- What do I want them to take away from it?
- Do I have specific data and research I can include – I make sure I site my research, always!
The Underlying Cause of the Problem — A little more detail about why this problem keeps on happening.
The Solution — My brilliant insight into how the problem can be solved.
Implementing the Solution — How the reader can turn ideas into actions, and what they should do next in order to apply what I’m teaching them.
- Create a Call to Action.
- How can I structure the post so that the Call to Action feels like a solution to my reader?
Getting to the Writing
Write the Nut Graf First
The nut graf tells the reader what the writer is up to; it delivers a promise of the story’s content and message — a paragraph that says what this whole story is about and why you should read it. Here’s a quick way I produce a nut graf for my next story: I make up my mind what the story is about and why people should read it — and then I type that conclusion in one or two sentences.
The benefits of starting with a strong nut graf is that in one paragraph you hook your reader, informs your reader what the story is about and why they should read it and you make your reader a promise to solve the identified issue you are writing about. A strong nut graf avoids writer’s creep and keeps your storyline consistent.
Once you have written your nut graf paragraph you have your story. Now you just need to follow the steps below to complete your outline.
- Create a compelling title – I usually run this through the Coschedule Headline Analyzer http://coschedule.com/headline-analyzer
- Insert your Nut Graph in the lead paragraph when possible – My lead paragraph usually includes the nut graf. It’s a flag to the reader, high up in the story: You can decide to proceed or not, but if you read no further, you know what that story’s about.
- Important Points about the Nut Graf
Don’t let nut graf tell the reader so much about the story that they have no incentive to keep reading.
- Never give away the ending of the story.
- Anticipate the questions that readers might be asking early in a story, and address them.
- Give readers a concrete reason or reasons to move on.
- Relevant Image, quotes and something tweetable.
Include relevant images ever 75 to 125 words. Call out quotes periodically and make sure to include at least one tweetable within your story.
- Personal Experience. I always try to share my personal experience. Why? Because readers connect with stories. The more honest and transparent I can be the better.
- Main Body. Everything to this point has been an introduction. I always try to make my main content I use bullets, numbered lists—and often both. This makes the content more accessible to readers and more sharable via Twitter and Facebook.
- Discussion Question. I try to end each post with a question. I don’t intend my posts to be a monolog. Instead, I want to start a conversation. As a result, I measure my effectiveness at this by how many comments I get.
With this, the writing is getting better and coming with less of a struggle and the result is I’m more connected with my audience and they are responding.