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Planning Blog Post Topics

It is no coincidence that I am writing this at the end of the year. Traditionally at the end of one year we look ahead to the next. I’m trying to make 2008 much more organized than 2007!

I am often paid to manage projects, it is something I am good at and enjoy, so I find it funny that I can organize projects and other people much easier than I organize myself. My writing especially tends to be spontaneous rather than planned. While this gives certain beneficial qualities, such as being current with the times, it can also add to stress and the potential for drying up right at the most inopportune moment.

Writing on the day a post needs to go out adds to risk. What if your connection goes down, your computer breaks or you come down with a bug? Also if like me you write for several places, it actually makes the job harder if you are switching topics. One minute you are writing about PDF to Excel Converters and the next you are writing about increasing conversion rates.

There are other problems too, as Skellie says

  • You won’t be able to develop a consistent posting rhythm. Your publish times will vary depending on whether you’re inspired, whether you have writer’s block, or whether you have time to write.
  • It’s difficult to be relaxed as you write when you need to publish your post quickly.
  • You’ll find yourself forced to publish what is really still a rough draft when your post takes longer than expected and you need to go somewhere, meet someone, or do something.

Now obviously if you are covering news then writing in advance will be impossible without a customized DeLorean or a crystal ball. For the rest of us writing in advance is a case of using the blog topic ideas techniques already mentioned along with planning ahead.

A Simple Editorial Calendar

If you want to plan your blog in advance the obvious technique to use is an editorial calendar. In the publishing world these tools are very common. If you are creating a magazine then the lead times tend to be weeks and weeks, it’s just not practical to write such a publication then print it right away. You need to know what you are going to need and when. They also help advertisers know when the best time to book ads to coincide with the content. I first heard about these being used in blogging from Raj who used to be a magazine editor, amongst other talents. I have just found wrote a great article about the concept.

While I am using Excel, you can just as easily use a diary, calendar or Google Docs. The nice thing about using spreadsheets is you have flexibility for if you need to include multiple blogs into one page, plus it is very easy using date formulas to make it work out the calendar for you.

As in the simple Google Docs example, you can start just by listing days and then filling in what you will write about on each day. After that you can proceed to organize months and seasons. Depending on your niche you might want to consider national and world holidays, plus the summer slump. These can factor in where you plan downtime, maintenance, slow news days or can be fuel for topic ideas.

Task Days

One change I have immediately implemented is I now have Mondays clear to do writing and little else. This came about because I had a large writing project to complete which required hours of dedicated time. After the project is delivered I will be able to use my Writing Mondays to get ahead in article writing.

A similar idea could be used for other blogging tasks, such as dedicating a block of time to do research, commenting, promotion, social networking, etc. Once you start to get ahead you will have more time to brainstorm ideas etc, time that otherwise would be spent trying to force the gray cells into giving up some inspiration :)

Writing on Mondays works for me as it fits into my natural rythm. Try to be aware of which days and hours you feel most chatty and sociable, or when you are all work, or which times you just like to take off. You might find on Friday afternoons you are thinking about the weekend so don’t want to do hard graft, while Wednesday PM you are getting into a groove and can take on the world so that is the best time to give yourself gnarly challenges.

Theme Days

Some people like to have particular content appear on certain days, so one day will be a link roundup, another will be a weekly interview spot, etc. While I am told it helps some people come up with content, I am not sure it would work for me. It might be worth a try though.

Another idea is to write for a different category every day. This helps both topic idea generation and also keep a wide cross section of your audience happier. I know I get feedback very often from people saying “why don’t you write about XYZ any longer?”.

These theme days can be written into your editorial calendar so you know in advance that Friday 4th January 2008 will be about “Herding Kittens”.

Schedule Your Linkbait

I usually advise for people to plan ahead for big linkbait campaigns and not have too many too bunched together. It’s far more effective to have a “Digg of the week” (or month) than try for three in as many days, and far less likely to see your site penalized or your audience annoyed.

If you find content getting traction by accident then you can also push your potential linkbait back and let the current exposure run its course.

Looking Back

We can’t travel into the future but we can record the past. An editorial calendar works both as a planning tool and as a way to record interesting factoids as you go along. Which days and months did you see traffic spikes and dips? What topics worked at certain times of the year? What day of the week is best for news and which is best for discussion?

Up to now I have used my memory, which isn’t the most reliable method, but once I have done a full year working with an editorial calendar I will have an actual record.

Those who neglect to remember the past are doomed to repeat it! I think the phrase goes something like that anyway.

Gather Material and Note it Down

As you go along you will have ideas for posts, moments of inspiration. While you could try to remember, or jot down in a notebook, your editorial calendar is a good place to put these ideas. Just place a headline on an appropriate date.

Looking over your partially completed calendar might also give you ideas, as you will more easily see patterns or see where you have left gaps in content as well as days. For example you might see that you have two or three ideas on a theme, could you make it into a series with a beginning, middle and end?

Writing in advance also gives you the opportunity to follow-on related thoughts. As I said above, if you are switching and changing topics or trying to force ideas to come, you are less likely to get into a flow. On the other hand when I have been writing longer documents, books and series posts for example, I have found I am more likely to think of several relateed things to write about rather than single solitary ideas springing up.

Summary

This is not about being anal or removing all spontaneity, you can still post as the muse grabs you. The idea here is to

  • Plan ahead
  • Have a safety net for when things go wrong
  • Get into a routine
  • Give yourself head space
  • Allow yourself freedom when you need it
  • Take some stress off
  • End up with a better blog

What do you think? Could this work for you? Do you do these things already? Got any post planning tips and links to share? You know what to do, please post your comments :)

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Comments

  1. It’s nice to plan these kind of things but when it comes to writing as your editorial calendar says,..

    It’s great to know how to do plans with an editorial calendar and how to use schedules but what bloggers really need, is a push in the back. There’s a really wide gap between “planning it” and “doing it”. I think that’s the biggest problem with this kind of planning.

  2. It’s nice to plan these kind of things but when it comes to writing as your editorial calendar says,..

    It’s great to know how to do plans with an editorial calendar and how to use schedules but what bloggers really need, is a push in the back. There’s a really wide gap between “planning it” and “doing it”. I think that’s the biggest problem with this kind of planning.

  3. Yes the best planning in the world can’t force you to write and that comes down to individual motivation and discipline :)

  4. Yes the best planning in the world can’t force you to write and that comes down to individual motivation and discipline :)

  5. Nice one. I’ve been meaning to establish a more organized posting rhythm for the coming new year. The last quarter of 2007 has been quite dull for my blog.

  6. Nice one. I’ve been meaning to establish a more organized posting rhythm for the coming new year. The last quarter of 2007 has been quite dull for my blog.

  7. A number of people have been recommending taking this route over the last few months and I think it’s a sign of a more professional attitude towards blogging. It makes perfect sense to me to go down this route and it’s something I’m going to be implementing in the new year. I think it’s vitally important to plan your spontaneity ;)

  8. A number of people have been recommending taking this route over the last few months and I think it’s a sign of a more professional attitude towards blogging. It makes perfect sense to me to go down this route and it’s something I’m going to be implementing in the new year. I think it’s vitally important to plan your spontaneity ;)

  9. Wow. Again this is so helpful. I spend quite a bit of time after reading your mapping post … as I mentioned I keep it in more of an outline format in a word doc but it works the same. I have a question … do you feel it’s better to write the posts in the order of main categories and then fill in with the sub-categories … or should you start with a main category and fill in all of the sub-category posts and then move on to another main category? Thanks again for all of your helpful posts!
    *SmiLes* Suzanne

  10. Wow. Again this is so helpful. I spend quite a bit of time after reading your mapping post … as I mentioned I keep it in more of an outline format in a word doc but it works the same. I have a question … do you feel it’s better to write the posts in the order of main categories and then fill in with the sub-categories … or should you start with a main category and fill in all of the sub-category posts and then move on to another main category? Thanks again for all of your helpful posts!
    *SmiLes* Suzanne

  11. I recently set up a schedule for myself. My writing/content day is Sunday… Monday is traffic day. I also have a monetization day and a business planning day.

    Great post…

  12. I recently set up a schedule for myself. My writing/content day is Sunday… Monday is traffic day. I also have a monetization day and a business planning day.

    Great post…

  13. Three cheers for spotting another emerging trend on the road toward the professionalization of blogging. There’s such a clear analogy between blogs and magazine publishing, for bloggers to adopt the practice of using an editorial calendar makes a good deal of sound good sense. Erhm, thanks for the nudge!

  14. Three cheers for spotting another emerging trend on the road toward the professionalization of blogging. There’s such a clear analogy between blogs and magazine publishing, for bloggers to adopt the practice of using an editorial calendar makes a good deal of sound good sense. Erhm, thanks for the nudge!

  15. I have a regular full time job and it is “advised” that I take a one hour lunch break (read “all but required by Legal”). It never takes me more than 15 minutes to eat and I used to think a half hour was a long lunch break. What in the world am I going to do for a full hour??

    Ah ha! I write, edit and collect images for my blog posts! It’s turned into very valuable time for me. I take 2 days (approx. 1 hr 20 minutes during my lunches) to research, write and edit my posts and usually collect most of my images. I format the post at home (which seems to take just as long as writing it!) and set it to publish at the same time on M, W and F. I don’t usually get very far ahead though, unless I’m really inspired and end up write a very long post. Then I break it up into two (or three!) smaller posts and create a mini-series.

    It sure does relieve a lot of stress and anxiety when I know what I’m going to write about. I started planning for the week ahead on the weekends a while ago. Never thought about planning more than a week ahead of time. Hmm. Good idea!

  16. I have a regular full time job and it is “advised” that I take a one hour lunch break (read “all but required by Legal”). It never takes me more than 15 minutes to eat and I used to think a half hour was a long lunch break. What in the world am I going to do for a full hour??

    Ah ha! I write, edit and collect images for my blog posts! It’s turned into very valuable time for me. I take 2 days (approx. 1 hr 20 minutes during my lunches) to research, write and edit my posts and usually collect most of my images. I format the post at home (which seems to take just as long as writing it!) and set it to publish at the same time on M, W and F. I don’t usually get very far ahead though, unless I’m really inspired and end up write a very long post. Then I break it up into two (or three!) smaller posts and create a mini-series.

    It sure does relieve a lot of stress and anxiety when I know what I’m going to write about. I started planning for the week ahead on the weekends a while ago. Never thought about planning more than a week ahead of time. Hmm. Good idea!

  17. It’s taken me some time, but I’ve finally got it, after months of scrabbling around at the last minute for a topic and turning a potentially short and snappy post into an essay. I sat down after reading this and wrote a draft for my 12 Days of Christmas Tips – one a day for the 12 following the 25th which gives me some real time for planning other projects and doing some serious writing.

    Seeing each post planned made me realise there is such good material to publish a short ebook in January.

    Thanks for the tips!

    Thanks for the tips Chris.

  18. It’s taken me some time, but I’ve finally got it, after months of scrabbling around at the last minute for a topic and turning a potentially short and snappy post into an essay. I sat down after reading this and wrote a draft for my 12 Days of Christmas Tips – one a day for the 12 following the 25th which gives me some real time for planning other projects and doing some serious writing.

    Seeing each post planned made me realise there is such good material to publish a short ebook in January.

    Thanks for the tips!

    Thanks for the tips Chris.

  19. Thanks for the useful tips. I currently write one blog entry every day and I have a list of ideas, but I don’t link them to dates until I actually write my blog entry for that day. I’m going to start planning my blog entries in 2008. :)

    Even without a schedule, I think I’ve written some good content recently, even this close to Christmas. I assumed quite a few bloggers would be winding down for the holiday season, so I took the opportunity to write some really good content. Fewer people blogging at this time means it’s more likely that people will be looking for something to read. I like to do the opposite to the majority ;)

    Have a great Christmas.

  20. Thanks for the useful tips. I currently write one blog entry every day and I have a list of ideas, but I don’t link them to dates until I actually write my blog entry for that day. I’m going to start planning my blog entries in 2008. :)

    Even without a schedule, I think I’ve written some good content recently, even this close to Christmas. I assumed quite a few bloggers would be winding down for the holiday season, so I took the opportunity to write some really good content. Fewer people blogging at this time means it’s more likely that people will be looking for something to read. I like to do the opposite to the majority ;)

    Have a great Christmas.

  21. This post has inspired me to go create my own editorial calendar. Thanks for the idea!

  22. This post has inspired me to go create my own editorial calendar. Thanks for the idea!