(Note: This post is based on the main presentation from the New Zealand Bloggers Network meetup on March 22, 2016.)
Over the last several months, I’ve been informally coaching a few writers. A couple of them are just starting out, but they’re serious about improving. To do that, they’ve started blogging. At least, they’re trying to blog.
Both of them have told me the same thing: while they have ideas, they have trouble finding the time to write posts.
That’s a not uncommon complaint among bloggers. Bloggers are creative folk. But like many creative folk, bloggers often wait until inspiration strikes them to write and publish. That’s not really the best way to approach it.
Why? If you wait until inspiration strikes, chance are your blog will be wind up being a barren, parched expanse of digital real estate.
If you’re serious about blogging — whether for personal reasons or to promote your business, brand, or service — and want to be taken seriously as a blogger, you need to write and publish regularly. That’s especially true if you’re trying to position yourself as an authority or an expert in an area.
Duke Ellington put it best when he said:
I don’t need time, I need a deadline.
Or, at least, you need to be able to set aside time to write and know (more or less) what you’re going to write about.
Start With a Plan
I’ve always disliked the saying Failure to plan is planning to fail. In this case, it rings true.
Why plan? By planning, you’ll have blog posts ready to publish — especially during those times when you’re running short of ideas or are just too busy (or lazy) to write.
To start off, think about how often you want to post to your blog. It might be once or twice a week. It might be three times a week. It might even be daily. If you don’t have a publishing schedule, no matter how loose, for your blog it might be time to create one. Consider not only how often you want to post, but the days on which you want to publish those posts. That schedule will help you focus on how far ahead you need to plan.
I’ll assume that you have ideas for blog post. They might be in your head, in a notebook, or in a tool like Evernote. That’s great and all, but until you act on those ideas they’re worthless. Take, for example, this tweet that passed through my stream in 2015:
I wonder how many of those 365 ideas that person has actually tackled. Not many, I’d bet.
I like to try to have enough ideas for at least three months worth of blog posts. That sounds like a a lot, and it can be. I post three times a week on my main blog — two new posts and a list of five useful links.
With that in mind, I can move forward to scheduling my posts. Not just when they’re published, but when I need to write them.
One of the best ways to do that is to create an editorial calendar.
What’s an Editorial Calendar?
The editorial calendar comes from the world of magazine publishing. Magazines generally have their editorial content — articles, photos, and the like — for the year planned out at the beginning of the year. Issues have themes, and those themes have article ideas that the editors have either assigned to writers or which writers have pitched to the editors.
Not all of the content may be in the hands of the editors, but it’s scheduled and it has a deadline. And that’s what really matters.
As I mentioned earlier, when it comes to blogging and editorial calendars, it’s not just about pencilling in what to write and when to publish it. It also involves blocking out time to write those posts. I’ll be discussing this process in a moment.
How Can an Editorial Calendar Help You?
One of the many (ill-fitting) hats I wear is technology coach. When I advise my clients on how to organize their digital lives or get them to use new tools, I stress that they need to build a habit.
And that’s what an editorial calendar can help you do. It can help you build the discipline to sit down in front of the keyboard. It can help you build the habit of writing. To be successful at blogging, or any kind of writing, you need to do it every day.
With an editorial calendar, as I said earlier, you block out time to write. That’s the start of building that discipline and that habit. Once you do that, writing your posts will not only become a regular occurrence, it will become easier.
Creating the Calendar
I want to discuss a tool agnostic way of scheduling your blog posts. What I mean by that is a framework that you can apply to any tool you use.
Try to think at least a month ahead if you can. You don’t need to think a month ahead. You can think a week or two ahead instead. No matter how far ahead you are thinking, try to come up with topics and, if you want, one or more themes for the month. If you decide to use themes, group your topics around those themes.
Slot your posts into your calendar, based on their publication dates. For example, let’s say you publish posts three times a week: on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On those days, enter something like Publish xyz post in your calendar. While you’ll probably be setting your posts to publish automatically on those days, having those slots in your calendar is a good reminder.
Let’s say it’s August and you’ve scheduled your topics for September. It’s time to start writing your posts. To do that, block out days in August to do your writing. Depending on what calendar tool you’re using, you can also block out specific times on those days to write. By blocking out those dates and times, you’re committing to writing. That’s the first, and most difficult, part of building the habit and discipline of writing regularly.
Don’t feel obliged to write a post a day. If you expect a post to be long or just require more thought, then spread writing it over two days. In my calendar, for example, I often enter Start writing xyz post in one slot and Finish writing xyz post in the slot for the next day.
If you publish several times a week, think about leaving holes in your calendar. Why? Something might come up. You might go to an event and want to write a report about it. Someone might offer to write a guest post for your blog. Any number of things can happen. Leaving that hole in your calendar gives you the freedom to slot those posts in without making it seem like you’re cramming content into your blog.
Looking at Calendars
It doesn’t matter which calendar you use. The calendar you use doesn’t even need to be digital — it can be an old fashioned wall calendar. But if you do decide to go digital, there are a lot of good choices available. Here are a few:
You can also use the calendar on your computer or your mobile device, or even a paper calendar.
You select a day and then add a calendar entry (sometimes called an event) to that day. Then add information like the title of the post, any keywords or tags, and the theme (if any) under which that post belongs to the entry.
You might also want to add a reminder. Reminders are very useful. They nag you. They let you know that you have something coming up. They keep you on your toes. You can set up reminders so that they’re sent to your email address or to your phone as a text message.
Something I recommend is using multiple calendars. I don’t mean individual ones that you need to log into separately. I’m talking about calendars within a larger calendar. Think of a cupboard with several slots. The cupboard is the main calendar, and each of those slots is an individual calendar.
With some tools, like Google Calendar, you can colour code individual calendars — for example, blue for your personal calendar and red for blogging. Doing that gives you an at-a-glance view of what’s on your plate. Multiple calendars enable you to focus. You can choose to view only one calendar and not be distracted by everything else.
Here’s an example of an editorial calendar in Google Calendar:
But It Doesn’t Have to Be a Calendar
Remember what I said about being tool agnostic? Well, you don’t need to think literally of a calendar. You can use anything you want. Like:
- A text file
- A word processor document
- An Evernote notebook
- Google Keep
- A paper notebook and a pen
It’s whatever works best for you. There’s no use trying to shoehorn the way your work into a tool that’s not right for you.
I use a tool called WorkFlowy to plan and schedule all my writing. WorkFlowy is, essentially, a giant set of lists. I like WorkFlowy because it works in the way I think. Plus, it’s easy to manipulate the items in WorkFlowy lists.
In WorkFlowy, I have a list for my blog posts. That list covers my two main blogs and is broken down by blog and by quarter.
For each quarter, I have lists for each month. Under those lists are the titles of the blog posts and the dates on which I plan to publish those posts.
So how do I know when to write those posts? Even though I’m constantly in WorkFlowy, I do need a reminder. That comes from my task list. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with one called Remember the Milk. At the beginning of the week, I load up my tasks (along with a reminder). Remember the Milk sends me a reminder on the day I need to write a post.
As I mentioned earlier the tool you use isn’t important. What’s important is that you use a plan and schedule your posts. It keeps you accountable and helps you build the discipline and habit of writing regularly.
You’ll find that once you get used your schedule, writing posts (and finding time to write them) will become easier.
It takes some time to get into the rhythm of working to a schedule. It takes some effort. During that time, you’ll backslide. You might even get frustrated. But stick with it. Remember that you’re building a habit, and building a habit takes time.
But before you know it, you’ll be planning and scheduling your blog posts like a pro.