August 9, 2016

Blogging, Not Blogging

7 ways to get back into blogging

It’s late, I’m tired from a long day of consulting and I’m trying to blog. The baby is asleep, Erin’s out getting some laps at the pool. Blogging is hard but has given me so much over the years that I’m trying to get back into it.

At some stage I need to write the definitive “why you should blog” post. I wrote a piece You’re not blogging my friend, and that’s a problem a while back and I like it but it’s not the piece. But that’s for another day. This post is about wanting to start but stumbling at the first hurdle. Let’s try and get you over that hump - here’s 7 things I’ve found useful to get blogging over the years:

Blog for one person only

One of my favorite writing tips of all time is from Steinbeck. He says:

It is usual that the moment you write for publication—I mean one of course—one stiffens in exactly the same way one does when one is being photographed. The simplest way to overcome this is to write it to someone, like me. Write it as a letter aimed at one person. This removes the vague terror of addressing the large and faceless audience and it also, you will find, will give a sense of freedom and a lack of self-consciousness.

Forget the general post, it’s hard to write with a general voice. But writing a letter is easy - you know what you want to say so just say it.

Hi Brian. This post is for you.

Release, Rework, Reference

This is more of a mindset than a specific tip - but it’s helped me think about writing. Especially about building a body of writing like you do with blogging. What is the value of a networked set of things I’ve written? Turns out - almost everyone I admire online, people that produce the kinds of things I wish I’d made all follow the same structure: release, rework, reference.

What does that mean? It’s a concept stolen from The Calculus of Grit:

In physical space, latitude, longitude and altitude get replaced by arc-length, curvature and torsion when you go intrinsic.

In endeavor space, field, domain and years of experience get replaced by three variables that lend themselves to a convenient new 3Rs acronym: reworking, referencing, releasing (well, technically, it is internal referencing and early-and-frequent releasing, but let’s keep the phrase short and alliterative). I believe the new 3Rs are as important to adults as the old ones (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic) are for kids.

Alright - maybe that’s a hard one to parse. The piece is dense but you should go read it, and then look at how all the “greats” online follow this framework - they release often, they rework rigorously and they produce the kind of work that they themselves want to reference.

So, a good place to start might be to start writing that piece that you want to reference all the time. That concept that is in your head that you bring up again and again in conversation. Get it out of your head and release it into the world. Then you can rework it later.

Forget the writing - write for the discussion

Networked writing - aka blogging - is all about content as an idea vector. A conversation starter from me to you - if I write this and email it to you that will spark something. If you email it and send it to 5 people you’re sparking the same idea in 5 different ways. So forget writing for the words, write for the space between the word, between the ideas - write as connective tissue between people.

Write it in a Google Doc and send it to someone for feedback

If networked writing that is designed for one person is something we’re talking about - why not skip to the end game? Write it in Google Docs give your audience edit permissions and send it to them. I had a fascinating enlightening discussion with Toby Shorin of all in a Google Doc draft of an upcoming blog post. Maybe it never becomes a post but certainly we had a fascinating deep engagement with the topic.

Build an independent home for it

Yeah you heard me. Most writing advice says “don’t worry about the presentation, just write” but actually I think that’s backwards. If you have a hunkering to build a little independent home for your online presence go do it. Pour some love into the CSS. When you get a finished result you’re happy with what do you think is the first thing you’re going to want to do with it? Yeah that’s right. Write.

Publish your work

Most careers and most employers don’t like it when you publish your work to the web. But don’t worry about that - strip away the confidential stuff and publish an email you sent to your team. Or a presentation you did internally. You’re bleeding 9-5 every day into your work, so why not take some of that stuff and reclaim it as your own?

My post on decentralized brands and the future of content marketing was purely a presentation that I gave that I decided I could republish as a blog post. It’s a short post but it was based on some real thinking and as such struck a chord with some folks (of course it helped that I emailed the piece individually to a few folks too…)

(Brian - I’d love to just follow you for a day in your new job. Channel that excitement, that insider baseball and publish some bits of it.)

Curate some interestingness

The human brain is wired for labeling and categorizing things. And so we build mental models of topics by collecting ideas and storing them as labels in our brain. But remember, those labels are made up. And they likely don’t correspond to everyone else’s labels. So take a concept you have in your brain and unpack the concepts within it - write something that’s just pointers to the best writing within that label. You’ll be amazed at how valuable this is for folks who have that same label but a different mental model…

(Brian - we talked about this idea over beer. Assemble some of the pieces around you in interesting ways and you’ll create something truly interesting).

That’s all I’ve got for now. But I’m still plotting to write that master “why you should blog” piece… One day eh?

What are your best ways to begin blogging again?

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This post was written by Tom Critchlow - blogger and independent consultant. Subscribe to join my occassional newsletter: