Arcane Thoughts: Tips for Daily Blogging

Last Thursday I wrote a post on The Benefits of Blogging, which has turned out to be quite popular. One of the comments mentioned how easily you can become overwhelmed trying to create posts daily. I thought I might share a few of the tips that I’ve picked up to make life easier.

Use tools

I use a variety of tools to create my blog. My first pass is done in Microsoft Word. By using an editor I can keep copies of my blog posts locally, should something happen with my blog. (Backups are always a good thing.)

I then use a posting tool to help with the pushing of my entry to the site. Currently I’m using Microsoft Live Writer Beta (http://get.live.com/betas/writer_betas). I cut and paste what I’ve done in Word over to it, and add in embellishments such as graphics or additional HTML. I can swap back and forth between presentation view and html easily.

To do my graphics I use two tools, WinSnap and Paint.Net. I’ve already blogged about WinSnap (http://shrinkster.com/oif), and you can get Paint.Net at http://www.getpaint.net/index2.html. Both of these are free tools.

Finally, if you plan to paste Visual Studio code samples into your blog, an indispensible tool is the “Copy As Html” add-in. I’ve blogged about this as well at http://shrinkster.com/oig.

Write in advance

Using the tools above also allows me to write my articles in advance. Often I’ll pick one or two evenings a week or a quiet Sunday afternoon, and write several articles at once, then post them as each day arrives.

This allows me to take a little bit of the daily stress off, as I don’t have to worry about a post every day. Second, it allows me to write a series of posts much more coherently. You can break large subjects up over multiple days, which means you avoid posts that are too big and won’t overwhelm either your readers or yourself.

Obviously there are times or blogs who are not suited to this. Daily tech news sites, for example. But for most of us, having a week or so worth of posts ready to go is a reasonable balance to achieve.

Write Now. And Later!

Another benefit to writing in advance is that it gives you time to review what you’ve done. You can write the post, then walk away for a bit, several hours at least if not days. Once you’ve had that break, you can come back and re-read what you’ve created. Make sure it still makes sense.

There have been many times I’ve gone back and revised entries I’d written several days earlier, prior to posting. I think it only makes your writing stronger when you can have a break so you can look at your creation with fresh eyes.

Use a Reviewer

When I’ve written something I’m not sure about, or have an especially long piece I want checked for accuracy and consistency, I will ask one of my co-workers or on-line friends to act as a reviewer or editor. I’ll e-mail them the post, and let them make comments. I’ll then incorporate their feedback into the post.

It’s important though to select someone who you have a good relationship with, someone who will give you honest feedback. One way to get good feedback is to use a technique I picked up in Toastmasters: Ask the person what three areas could use improvement, and what three areas did you get right. People aren’t so reluctant to criticize when they know they will also be able to say something positive.

It’s also important to pick someone who is knowledgeable enough about the subject to be able to provide worthwhile feedback. I recently did a series on SQL Server Compact Edition in C#. A coworker, who is good with C# and SQL Server but new to SQL Server Compact Edition, was a great choice to act as a reviewer. In contrast my lovely wife, who is good with computers but doesn’t know a thing about C# or SQL Server, would not have been able to provide the quality of feedback I needed.

Use Illustrations

While not every post is a good fit for a graphic of some sort, many can benefit by having a simple picture or code snippet included. These are pleasing to the eye of the reader. Be careful not to make them so big they dominate the page though, unless you actually need them to (such as in a ‘step by step’ set of instructions).

Use Categories (Tags)

Most blogging tools I know of allow you to add tags or categories to your posts. Use them! And don’t be afraid to use a lot of them, you never know how your readers will need to find the information you are providing.

Additionally, it makes it easier to help others who are interested in a particular topic. Remember the point I made about mentoring in my benefits article? I’ve been surprised at how many times I’ve said “just got to my blog and look at my posts under the XYZ category.”

Be Flexible

Sometimes you need to be able to change what you had originally planned to post. Perhaps some company makes a new announcement you feel the need to respond to. Or perhaps a comment on your blog inspires thought, such as this post. I originally had another post ready for today, but when I read a comment made last night inspiration struck, and this post came to life.

Set Reasonable Goals

My final piece of advice is to set a reasonable posting goal. For me, for various reasons one post per weekday seemed a reasonable goal. You will notice I don’t usually post on the weekends or holidays, to give myself some time off.

Your life though is not mine. You may find three times a week to be enough, or even just once a week. It’s important though to set a goal and stick with it, make it a commitment, just as if it were a job. Just be careful not to set your goal too high, or else you’ll wind up burning out and growing to hate or resent your own blog. Consistency though is the key, again select a goal and stick with it.

Well there you go, a few of the techniques I use that allow me to keep up the pace of daily blogging. Please feel free to leave a comment below with your own tips and tricks.

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