Blogging impressions: how to improve the focus of every post

Just around the time I started to blog I found a post which didn’t sink in at the time I read it. However a few posts later I realized the value of this remark:

Don’t try to save the world in a single post.

(If you happen to recognize this quote please let me know and I’ll be sure to mention the author for inspiring me.)

When you start blogging you may have so much to share that you end up cramming too many (interrelated) subjects into one post.

Blogging Impressions 2: Add Focus to your writing

Add focus to your writing

By doing so you run a few risks at once:

  • You find yourself running out of subjects quite soon (or so it may seem);
  • You exhaust your readers by the sheer length of your post. If it’s a detailed “how to” step-by-step guide you’re excused – people love that like they love one-stop shopping!
  • Your post would have been better if you’d chopped it up into several posts so you could focus on one subject – rather than saying a little about a lot of different subjects.

How to improve your posts: quick fix

Suppose you find you’ve just written an incoherent, rambling post that offers a “sight-seeing tour of my favorite subject”. What can you do about it?

  1. Take a moment to identify subjects (or aspects of your main subject) that would be much happier in their own post. Sometimes a single paragraph contains enough information for a whole post. You’re not doing it justice by confining the subject to a single paragraph.
  2. Get rid of paragraphs that lead your reader off the main track. Move any paragraph which does not support your main statement or question into a separate space (note, document, draft). Leave it there for a few hours.
  3. Edit your original post. Make sure your recent pruning session doesn’t leave ugly marks in your text. Remove arguments that don’t make sense because the only reason you wrote them was to lead up to the subject that didn’t quite fit in…
  4. Then come back and see if the paragraph you took out has the potential to grow into a whole post once you’ve added water and proper soil.

New post: try to start writing by not writing

Approach every subject you’d like to tackle in your blog as though it’s a project. Here are a few steps that may help you.

Explore your subject. Your main aim is to find out what different aspects there are – some of which might lead you into opposite directions. You can try mindmapping, or just sitting and thinking if that suits you better. Find information on the internet if you think you have missed anything.

Select aspects to write about. Take one or two aspects you could write a nice, focused and ‘complete’ post about. Try to be clear on why you need to focus on your selected aspects today, and why other aspects can wait.

If you’ve chosen more than one aspect, determine what the connection between those aspects is: why and how do they fit into one post? If you can’t find an answer, putting them into the same post may be a mistake.

Then sit down and write.

Edit your new post. Are you happy with the result? Are there parts of your post that seem out of place? Check if those parts happen to belong to different aspects of your subject, which you resolved to write about at a later time.

Think of your blog as a book. You don’t need to write it in one day. You just need to know what the chapter you write today adds to your story line.

Simply knowing what each separate post is supposed to solve or add should give a sense of direction to your efforts. Good luck!

+ If you enjoyed this post, please share it.

How has this post helped you? What other methods do you use to improve your blogging?

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Twitter: 6 strategic tips for newcomers

I’ve been active on Twitter for a while now – though not long enough to have stopped being surprised (or somewhat dismayed) on a regular basis.

Great things about Twitter

Twitter provides an egg image for new users

Getting to know new people from across the globe – including people living quite close by, who remained unnoticed for a long time. Talking about things your relatives or friends may not be familiar with, or interested in because they relate to hobbies they don’t share or to your professional interests.

If you follow accounts with lots of links to interesting articles it is like having your intellectual equivalent of a bag full of sweets with you all day long. Even without searching, new stuff pops up. All you need to do is check out anything which looks interesting.

Surprises on Twitter

People expecting you to follow back within 24 hours. This came as a bit of a surprise to me. I mean what if you’re busy, or off for a holiday, or your spouse got angry because the best way to get you to talk to him/her would be to DM you on Twitter? Remember time zones.

People who don’t answer. I know some people have crazy numbers of followers but if you think talking to your followers is getting too ‘social’ then don’t follow back. Risk losing some followers. Or get some handy tool to help you stay social.

Clone accounts. Imagine checking a new follower’s bio and tweets, thinking ‘oh well, why not’ and following them back only to find some clone account following you the next day! I wrote a post about clone accounts earlier, and recently a similar thing happened to me.

Unfollowing and refollowing. I’m at a stage where I can still (just about) handle the number of new followers I get in a day and I check accounts regularly. I don’t like to see the same faces popping up several times among my new followers. If I don’t follow for some reason, tweet me a message if you think you can add to my (professional) life – show me you’re willing to talk to me. That adds value if your bio didn’t convince me!

Automated unfollows. I’m not kidding – it happened a couple of times before my very eyes. People who follow you because you might be interested in their products or services and who unfollow the second you press the follow button. I call that impolite. Only old-school, outbound marketers who want to be heard without having to listen do this. As I have only two ears myself (happy coincidence) I understand the problem of having a lot of people in your Twitter feed but hey, if you’re in marketing then it’s your job. Get your social media tool box out and go social.

#FF or #FollowFriday – apparently some people have decided to use their working hours on Friday to broaden their networks. They tweet #FF messages mentioning people they recommend you follow. I prefer the ones that state WHY these people are so interesting…

First steps strategy for Twitter newcomers

  1. If you’re not tweeting much yet, use lists to collect people you’d like to be followed by. Who goes into your list? Anyone with way more ‘followers’ than ‘following’. Let’s call them ‘influencers’. These are people who have plenty of others to talk with, and they need a reason to follow you (back). You can try to give them one by trying the next few tips.
  2. Get a profile picture. If you’re not comfortable with the idea, there are plenty of people who use a picture of part of their face, or a picture that shows them really small, or hazy, or dark. Whatever you do, it pays to ‘hatch’ from that egg.
  3. Write a bio that shows what sort of subjects you’re interested in.
  4. You can follow the ‘social’ people who are following more people than they have followers of their own.
  5. Retweet stuff from your influencers that you like. Quite a lot of people on Twitter will thank you for retweeting or mentioning their name (Twitter handle).
  6. If you have about the same number of followers as following, remember that others may interpret this as a sign you’ve an automated follow-back tool, and follow you in hopes of gaining more followers.
  7. Update: At some point someone will retweet an article you either wrote or discovered and shared, or mention you. My fellow blogger Daniel Sharkov (@DanielSharkov) has kindly pointed out that thanking people for sharing your stuff is definitely something you want to do. It may well lead to conversations and follows, but apart from that, people appreciate courtesy.

Looking back at my first Twitter adventures I would say the moment you decide to become active and therefore visible on Twitter, you need to be aware of what goes on around you. I hope I’ve given some idea of what you’re likely to encounter.

Did I miss anything major which you feel would really help people new to Twitter? If so, please add your tips in a comment to this post!

Blogging impressions

When I started this blog I was completely focused on writing. In fact, I could hardly wait to get started.

My main reason for being so eager to get started was this: I needed to find out  if I could write on a regular basis. And in English, which is not my native language – it is just about at that level where every minute example of Dutch influence nags at me. Which is annoying if you’re trying to get to a point where you actually click the darn “Publish” button in stead of having your eye drawn towards it every so often.

First impressions of bloggingI did not expect to find myself staring at the screen, wondering what on earth to write about.

And so far that has not happened.

Quite the opposite. I have several drafts waiting as I write this post. They are awaiting further scrutiny, added links, a picture, or extensive editing.

But here is the issue I have run into:

I have always had ideas pop into my head. The choice has always been either to jot them down at once, in which case I mostly found myself writing a lot more than just the initial thought, or not – in which case I would probably forget the idea or at least the contect which made the idea seem worth remembering.

All my life I have written from scratch until I had two-thirds of the end result. After that I would add a few things, maybe move a few bits around, write the final version and call it ready. That worked for me at college, even though I might have done better if I’d bothered to remember the rules for writing essays.

The only rule I stuck to – in fact, the only rule I could ever remember – was: you need an introduction and a conclusion. Based on that rule, I would start by quickly jotting down my obligatory introduction, then write myself a path into a glorious sunset, and wrap everything up in a famous last stand. And that saw me through to the very end, no problem.

When it comes to blogging, I have learned a few things from my first five posts.

A major issue is how to rein in my type-happy fingers!

I guess I’ll have to pay attention to all the stuff I’ve read about better blogging.

But now at least I have published something. I could have tried everything that bloggers were telling me to do in my first post and I probably would not have dared to point at the publishing button.

So here is my first to-do list

  1. As soon as I find myself looking at my Word count and thinking “Oops it’s well over 1k!” I’m going to find out which subjects to move over to another post. Maybe it’s a 3-post subject. If that is the case, fine. I’ll write three posts if I have that much to say about a subject.
  2. Plus I’m going to experiment with titles a bit. I write on stuff that is more or less related to the buzz around “content”, content marketing and other things but it’s really also a way to get writing about things I read and like. I’ve read blogs on how to create ‘eyeball-grabbing’ headlines but I don’t feel comfortable trying them. However there is no point in adding sharing buttons to a blog that has no shareable titles.

Well that’s it – my shortest post so far! You’re welcome. In fact you’re also welcome to comment or offer tips 🙂

Hello World!

Bee on white flower

WordPress.com: beautiful platform or stinging issue?

I’ve just hopped onto the WordPress train. Since I don’t believe in jumping into the water to find out if it’s cold I’ve read nearly every post about starting up a blog written by professional bloggers (the ones I like anyway).

Every single one of them told me to go for a self-hosted WordPress blog (like they had, obviously). Next I was to get plug-ins for stats, for security and for flexibility, whatever flexibility meant for a blogger (I didn’t know – why else would I read about blogs?). All those well-meant tips gave me the impression I really shouldn’t go for a ten-minute-to-get-started blog because the experience would probably be incredibly painful.

Then I weighed pros, cons, hopes and fears. I wanted to get started but I wanted to get things right too. I hesitated. And then I went for a blog on WordPress.com.

Why?

Basically my train of thought went as follows.

  • If I go with the self-hosted version I’ll want to do it right. Because it means paying more. Not a fortune but more.
  • So I won’t stop there will I? I’ll go for a premium WordPress theme because I want one that is just right for my subject and since I’m already paying to go self-hosted I’ll dig until I find a theme I love.
  • Then I’ll get all 41 essential plug-ins plus 28 fun ones. Next up, the worries about all the future updates will probably kick in. I’ll end up deleting half a dozen plug-ins.
  • Given time I’ll read up on coding and try some changes to get things exactly the way I want them.
  • Since I’m not a night owl and coding will probably end up costing way more time than I ever planned to spend on it, I’ll find myself saying things to our two-year old I really shouldn’t say, ever (and anyway he’s not supposed to learn those words) for messing up my code by squeezing himself between me and the keyboard and then pressing any key he can reach, or dropping his favorite toy.
  • After all that I’ll have a great place to publish my blog. And I’ll create my first post. I can just picture myself staring at the screen.
  • Er.
  • By this time I’ll probably be able to write great stuff about coding, plug-ins and security (including the ‘kids & keyboards’ issue). But that wasn’t the reason I started out now was it?

You’ll have guessed it. I think I have enough ideas to write half a dozen posts. Or two dozen. Maybe more. The only way to find out is by writing. What I really want is to write and publish all those ideas that, if I don’t pin them onto my blog, will fly off into the sunset. And I want to find out if writing those ideas down means I’ll have more room in my head – room that will be filled with new ideas.

I just know that at this stage I could easily get side-tracked and it would take months before getting to the stage of actually writing my first post.

That is not going to happen. I won’t let it happen.

Note: my “Hello World” post was originally created on July 30th. But I had so many things to do: choosing a theme (which I thought I’d done but then I decided to change it after all), then getting a header photo, widgets, why isn’t there a Buffer widget? So I didn’t edit the post until some days later. And then I decided I might as well republish it altogether. My first experience with WordPress.com leads me to ask what on earth those bloggers meant when they called this the 10-minute version??

I’ll admit it probably wouldn’t be a 10-day version if I didn’t have a day job or if I had decided to stay up till 4 a.m. to get things done.