Feeding the content beast and surviving to tell about it
I was at a writer’s conference, talking with a fellow writer. Mentioned that I have a blog. His immediate response was “I could never do that”.
Interesting reaction from a writer.
The issue for him was that a blog means writing new content regularly. He didn’t think he could do that.
He’s not alone.
Many website owners have the same fear. Sure, that shiny, new website starts out filled with content. But then it needs to be updated. Have fresh items added regularly, so returning visitors will find new and interesting things to check out.
That’s where overwhelm kicks in.
What will I write next?
Content can be a beast that is continually hungry and will never be satisfied. At least if the approach is to always hit Monday morning and only then decide what to write this week.
Here are 3 helpers that can make the content creation process much easier (and enjoyable):
- Editorial calendar
I learned about backtiming when working in video production. Back then, I produced a TV series airing on public TV in Iowa during February and March.
Footage had been recorded during the preceding spring and summer. Scripts were written in late fall.
But program editing happened much closer to the actual airdate for each episode.
The airdate is non-negotiable and you can’t run a half-edited show. So I needed to figure out how long every step of the editing process would take and then work backwards from each program’s airdate to find when different milestones must be accomplished.
To add complexity, editing of the shows overlapped. I wasn’t just working on one program at a time.
At no point could I afford to get behind schedule, because the behinder you get, the harder it is to ever catch up. Especially since the final deadline is firm.
True, a blog post is very different from a TV show. But it too must get done on time.
The components of a blog post
A solid blog post that engages readers isn’t written in just one pass. There are multiple drafts and edits. Ideally with some time in-between to let the story ripen.
Pictures need to be found or created.
You may write a custom excerpt — that snippet that gets people to click and read the whole post.
Then there’s optimization for search engines (SEO).
Next an email to let everyone on your list know about the new post. That email has to be enticing, so people read it and click the link to get to the actual blog post.
You’re probably also going to promote on social media. That means writing short intros to get people to click a link and read the post itself.
Those are the ingredients of a blog post. And they all have to be done on time.
Backtiming creating a blog post
Let’s say that I want to send out the email to my list on Wednesday morning. Since I value my sleep, I need to have the blog post either published or scheduled in WordPress on Tuesday.
The email likewise must be set up and scheduled in my mass email program.
For me, blog posts turn out best if I can write over several days, returning to the post at different times.
Doing that, I can work on multiple posts concurrently. It does not work well for me to write a post start-to-finish in one sitting. I need time to percolate.
The ideal for me is to write a blog post over 5 days.
I then allow another day to load the post into WordPress and set up the email.
That’s 6 days. But let’s not include weekends. Because we all need recovery time.
So for an email scheduled to go out on Wednesday morning, the post has to be published or scheduled on Tuesday.
All that means that I’ll need to start writing that post Monday morning the week before. Then I can get it done, writing regularly every day.
Of course I’ll still need to work ahead for holidays and vacation times.
A schedule and routine that allows ample time to write a blog post removes much of the pressure of being creative on a deadline.
Even so, having to write on something every weekday and knowing that the deadline is coming up soon can still add pressure. And doesn’t provide much recovery time.
That’s where batching comes in. It might be half a day or a full day. But it’s time focused on creating content. Not just one blog post, but several.
For an example, let’s say I use the first Friday of the month for batching content. So I block out everything else on the calendar and go to it.
Not just one blog post start-to-finish, but working on several posts. That way I can make progress on one and let it rest, while working on another. I can draft a post, edit another, finish a third, create email for another and so on.
The goal isn’t necessarily to have them all finished at the end of the day, but to have made significant progress on several posts.
Because we all work at different speeds, you’ll have to experiment. It may be that it takes 2 days of batching to create 5 or 6 blog posts. Or maybe you batch one day and then finish those posts a little each day for a week or two. Either way, you now have a month or more of blog posts ready to go and don’t have to worry about missing deadlines every day.
No more Monday morning panic and writer’s block.
Backtiming for social media works the same way: Figure out how long it takes to create one post. Decide how often you will post and backtime to find out when to start creating a new post to have it done on time. Or when to spend a block of time batching several posts.
Once we have a plan for producing content and getting it done by when it’s needed (thanks to backtiming), it’s time to create the editorial calendar.
It’s important to have a calendar for the year available so you can see actual dates, holidays and anything else that should be considered.
If it’s your blog, the editorial calendar can be a quite simple. A spreadsheet works fine. One row is one piece of content.
Start with publication date for each piece of content in one column. Then enter the backtimed date when you need to start working on that piece in another column.
If you’re batching, mark on the editorial calendar when you’re batching and how many posts you plan to complete during that time. For instance, it might take 2 batching sessions to complete 5 blog posts.
You batch on the first 2 Fridays of the month. So the 5 posts to work on during that time should be for publication starting late in the month, because the 2nd Friday can be as late as the 14th.
Now that you have all the publication times marked on your editorial calendar, you can fill them with what content you plan to create for each slot.
Doing so, see how publication dates align with holidays, seasons and anything else going on in the lives of your readers, so the content will show up at the right time for them.
Deciding which posts to publish when
Then start assigning topics or ideas to specific publication dates. Some posts are very time dependent. For instance, seasonal posts or anything Thanksgiving, Christmas or Valentine’s Day. Other topics can be published anytime.
I do take care I don’t plan for several posts in a row that are very similar. Because variety keeps things interesting for the readers.
For collecting ideas of what to write about, I use Evernote. It’s on all my devices, so always with me. I can quickly jot down an idea and know that I will find it later.
My writer friend didn’t think he could come up with things to write about. I started with 3 posts and a few ideas. Several years later, I have more ideas now than ever before. If didn’t generate another idea from here on, I could keep the blog going for at least 2 years.
Not all ideas turn into great posts. Or multiple ideas become one post. The key is to get in the habit of capturing ideas as they pop up.
Creating an editorial calendar for a whole year at one time can be daunting. Especially when starting out. So try to create one for 6 months first. Or even 3 months.
Finally, no editorial calendar is set in stone. Things do come up that call for replacing what was planned with something more relevant for today. But when there’s a calendar, it’s actually easier to respond to those needs. Because I’m not working in a panic.
Working encourages creativity
Planning content months in advance may sound limiting. But it’s actually freeing. It gives direction and removes worry. Plus I have room to create deeper content that takes longer to research and write.
I’m not under the panic of having to have something out tomorrow morning. And that is worth a lot.
Plus, a holiday, vacation or just getting sick doesn’t end up causing extra stress due to the need to still publish on the blog or social media.
In the end, what actually gets written may change. But with a plan and working from it, our content creation is on solid footing. And not scary. Or overwhelming.
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