Lazy is the new black! … People just don’t like to overwork.
Don’t get me wrong, being lazy is not bad. It can actually get you to lots of interesting ideas and improvements to your daily tasks. Tasks like writing blog posts, for example.
Note. This post shares a nutshell approach to writing a blog post, and it uses the concept of mind mapping to do so. In order for you to get the maximum out of it you should check what mind mapping is (either here – Mind map, or here – how to make a mind map) before you consume the rest of this post.
In essence, mind mapping can be used in many different situations when we need to organize our thoughts, and somehow give them an understandable and clear form; so we can easily navigate between them.
One of such situations for every blogger (or someone working with WordPress in general) is the moment when you need to craft a new post. You have an idea, an angle, but it can be hard to get going and not stop until the whole post is ready.
Hitting a wall, or a writer’s block is very common. The block can be either permanent or just temporary (one when you simply need a second to get your thoughts together). One thing that can help you in writing a post smoothly from start to finish is, surprise surprise, mind mapping. To be honest, I’ve been using various mind maps for virtually every post I’ve ever written.
Well OK, maybe once or twice I didn’t need to, due to some perfect alignment of the stars and a crystal clear view of the post in my head, or something. Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, having a mind map is a HUGE time saver and frustration killer.
So what’s my mind map, then?
The lazy blogger’s secret weapon
Here’s a link to my mind map (FreeMind format) just in case you want to use it yourself. Of course, I encourage you to do so.
Now let’s explain the elements. Here’s a bird’s eye view:
As you can see, there’s a number of main parts to a blog post. Let’s discuss each part in detail.
1. is it a guest post?
This is the most important question, and that’s why it’s the first one on the list. The answer determines the whole process.
Each blog or site is different, so the writing is different, the length is different, the form of speech is different, and so on. If your post is going to be a guest post you need to follow the guidelines given by the blog’s editor. And those guidelines will impact your post significantly.
2. writing > guidelines
When writing, I always try to follow a set of guidelines, here they are:
From the top:
Touch upon just one single idea. Experience shows that whenever you try to talk about many different topics within a single post (because you want to reach every possible visitor) you end up creating something that is extremely difficult to follow, and ultimately … unreadable.
Write two independent copies. This might not seem very wise as it’s basically two times the work. But just hear me out. Often, the first version of a post is not the best we can do. Writing a second draft from the ground up can usually result in a far batter final effect. Just try it once and tell me what you think.
Write in headlines. Unfortunately, people on the internet don’t read. They scan. So you need to make your post scannable. One way of doing this is to try to convey the main message of your post in the subheadings. In other words, if someone reads just the subheadings they should still understand the main message (more or less).
Don’t hedge. This concept was first introduced on Copyblogger (10 Secrets to More Magnetic Copy, secret #1). Again, I’m a bit lazy today, so here’s a direct quotation:
“Hedging” is when you go out of your way to cover every contingency in an argument. Example: “Nowadays many middle-school girls have at least some affinity for vampires.” […] It’s soft, pudgy wording that lacks punch. Instead: “Nowadays middle-school girls love vampires.”
Simple language. Your post needs to be easy to understand for every reader. Don’t try to be smart just for the sake of it. Be conversational, like you’re talking to a friend. For me, simple language is the only language I know, since I’m not a native English speaker.
Be yourself – don’t imitate. Many people fall a victim to this. Either consciously or not, but the outcome is the same – they don’t sound natural. Like Seth Godin once said: “You can’t ‘outamazon’ Amazon.” Just let other people be themselves and you be yourself.
Know when to stop. This is a trap in which you can fall very easily. Once you get a nice flow of words it’s very easy to miss the perfect stopping point. There’s always that one thing you can add … that one joke you can tell … that one metaphor, and so on. Don’t!
3. the framework for your post
Now let’s take a look at the right-hand side of the mind map.
Taking it from the top:
Main idea. Again, your post should touch upon only one main idea. When you try to talk about too many things at once you often end up with an unreadable piece. One idea is enough for an online publication. People don’t have time for more.
Main keyword. You should always choose one main keyword (or phrase) for your post. Doing keyword research is a topic for another post, so I won’t get into this here. For now, check out some relevant information on other blogs. There’s a good article at seomoz – How To Do Keyword Research, for example. Once you have your desired keyword you should try to use it a couple of times in the body of your article, and if possible, in the title as well.
Resources. A placeholder for the list of resources you might need during the actual writing phase of the article. This is a mind map, remember? – Use it like one.
Structure. The structure of your post. You can go with many different frameworks here. For example: list post, a how-to guide, Q&A session, review, interview, contest, case study, personal opinion post, rant, and so on…
Title/headline. A placeholder for the title of your article. Crafting a headline is more of an art than science. Feel free to visit this post to get some ideas: 79 Great Headlines That Changed the Publishing Landscape Forever.
Plan. Another placeholder, this time for a plan or an outline of your article. Try to include your subheadings here. This will also improve the “writing in headlines” approach I’ve described earlier in this post.
Introduction. The introductory paragraph to your post is often the most important one. Don’t waste this opportunity to convince your readers to keep reading so they don’t quit after the initial sentences.
4. writing > questions
Going back to the left-hand side of the mind map…
Here are the questions I like to answer throughout the whole process of creating a post:
- Would this post work better when divided into smaller posts? Well, sometimes it just does. Usually, when we fail at focusing on one single idea.
- Would the post be better without the first paragraph? This is an interesting thing that sometimes works incredibly well. Try it out on your next post.
- Did I create any anticipation for the next post? Is there any reason for the visitor to tune in next time?
- Did I include some call to action? Was there a clear message to the reader about what you want them to do next (share, comment, buy, etc.)?
- Is the post useful in any way? This can be a harsh question, but it’s the most important one. If the post is not useful then … well, you should consider scrapping it.
- Would people want to share it? This somewhat connects to the previous question, but it’s not exactly the same. Not everything useful is worth sharing, and not everything that went viral is even remotely useful…
- Did I share something that others charge money for? This is an interesting point. If you read what you’ve written from top to bottom and you come to a conclusion that you could probably take this advice and give it to people on a consultancy contract then you’ve done a good job as a writer.
- Did I erase anything out of fear? Sometimes we’re just looking for approval. Sometimes we like to have some control over the possible reaction to our posts. Sometimes we simply want to feel safe. Those things can convince us into erasing something from our original draft. It’s not always a good idea… Sometimes we simply have to stand for what we believe in.
- Was I real? This sounds like a line from some rap song lyrics, I know, but that’s not what I mean. Being real is about showing the real YOU. Did you make a reference to some personal experience of yours? Were you honest? Is it really you speaking? Did you include any off-topic point?
Proofreading is one of the most important parts of crafting a piece of writing (sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it?).
Anyway, here are some of my proofreading guidelines:
- “Youify the post.” Which is a fancy term for going through the post again and making sure that you’re speaking to the reader directly. Use the word “you” more.
- He –> they. You don’t have to do it, but I think it’s a good guideline. The basic idea is not to make any assumptions regarding the visitor’s gender. In most cases you can substitute every “he” and “she” with “they.” Same goes for “his” –> “their” and so on.
- Spell check. No comment needed here.
6. next tasks
This is a set of tasks to do once the post is published.
- Link to other articles on your site. Linking to your other articles/posts is a good practice both for SEO and for reader engagement. By providing additional links you give people an option to keep browsing your site, and not leave once they’re done with the current post. Also, remember to use a suitable anchor text for the links.
- Link to other sites on the internet. If you know of some article that might be a good supplement to your post then there’s no reason not to link to it. Your readers will thank you for that.
- Include the keywords. Remember to use the keywords you’ve chosen for the article in the body of your article. It’s a good idea to go through the article once more and include the keywords in places where they actually make sense.
This has turned into a rather lengthy post, so It’s probably best to take a page out of my own book and know when to stop… But it’s not the end of the story – feel free to tell me what you think about this mind map. Do you find it useful and in tune with your way of crafting articles and content?