How to build a blogging routine that actually works
“I’d love to blog, but I can’t find the time!”
Everyone has the same amount of time. The difference between regular bloggers and sporadic guilt-ridden bloggers comes down to routine.
And not just any routine. You can’t just download someone else’s blogging plan off the internet and expect it to work for you. You need to create your own plan, that fits around your commitments.
Start by writing down all the steps involved in creating your blog posts. If you blog weekly, decide which of those steps you’ll do on each day, each week. If you blog fortnightly or monthly, spread the steps out over that longer period. If Thursdays are always packed, maybe skip blogging tasks on that day. Or use blogging as a break in your most stressful day by choosing to do the bits you find the most fun.
If trying to fit all the steps into a week leaves you feeling exhausted, blog less often. This is your blog, and it should fit around your work and life. If you're reallly struggling to fit your blogging in, here are some tips on finding time for new goals.
Turn your plan into a checklist that you can reuse for every post. Good tools for repeatable checklists include:
- Todoist - save task lists as text files and import a fresh copy for each new post.
- allows you to copy tasks from existing checklists.
- Word or Excel - easy to make printable task lists, so you can make a fresh copy for each post.
However you plan your blogging routine, here are the steps you should consider including. These are based on written posts, but you would do many of these exact same steps to prepare a podcast, a picture post or a video blog.
Step one: decide what you’re going to write about.
If you’re working from a list of ideas you made earlier, as I describe in this post, you might just need to do some final keyword checks and perfect your headline.
If you’re starting from a blank sheet of paper, your research will take a bit longer. You’ll need to find a topic your customers care about - and that you feel motivated to write about. You’ll need to do a little bit of thinking about keywords , and you’ll also want to create and test a headline. This post I wrote a few weeks ago walks you through that detailed blog post research.
I like to think of the research stage as creating a brief for my post. Choosing a headline sets up the question I need to answer or the problem I need to solve. The next step is outlining my response.
Outlining is creating a skeleton of your post as headings, subheadings, and bullet points. You might also include little notes to your future writing self, like “insert an image here” or “find that article and link to it”.
I usually do a first pass at my outline on paper. Sometimes I do more of a mindmap, especially if I know all the ideas I want to include but I’m not sure about the order to tackle them. Next, I transfer my outline to digital format. I flesh it out a bit more, settle on an order, and add notes about quotes, links and images that I want to include.
For digital outlining, I like Workflowy* . It’s super fast to use. Often, I go straight to the editor I use for writing. Then my first draft is just a matter of filling out the bullet points.
Now we’re ready to tackle a first version of the full post. Try not to edit as you write. It’s easy to get bogged down in self-criticism. Just keep typing!
There are very few distractions when you write in Markdown. You can mark text as bold, italic, headings, lists or quotes. You can insert links and add blocks of HTML. That’s pretty much it.
It doesn't look that attractive, but a big bonus for me is that I can paste this version of my post straight into a Squarespace Markdown block. All the formatting, links and HTML come out just as I intended.
You might not have this feature in your blog. So my tip is to try a few editors, from basic notepad tools to your weightiest word processor. Find the one that you like to write in, that you can also paste into your blog editor with the formatting intact.
Source graphics and check details
At this point I suggest you step away from your draft (overnight if you can), and work on other aspects of the post. I take time here to choose images and edit them into the various sizes I will need for promoting my post. If I’m using quotes, I’ll check the wording and attribution. I’ll locate articles I want to reference, and add missing links.
Allow time for at least couple of passes. Maybe one that's more about content and structure, and one for spelling and grammar. As you practise, you’ll get faster at each pass. These are the checks I usually make:
- Does it answer the brief? Check you’re delivering what you set out to deliver in your post.
- Does it make sense? Check you've got the right ideas in the right order to make your point.
- Is it the right length? I keep hearing that ‘people don’t read long stuff anymore’. That’s total rubbish. People will read long articles if they’re interested. But there are limits - I try to stay under 2000 words. And if you know your readers prefer 500-word articles, don’t suddenly hit them with a 2000-word epic. Break it into several shorter pieces and rejoice, because your next few posts are now taken care of.
- Can it be simpler? I use Hemingway to help me with this part. It highlights all the complex sentences and encourages me to make things snappier.
- Spelling and grammar. I use Grammarly* to help me check my writing.
- Proofread it. Several times! Even if you’ve used Grammarly, you still need to check it yourself. Print it out if you can. I don’t know why typos show up better when printed but they do. If you can get someone else to proofread it, that’s even better! They will always spot things you don’t see.
I wrote a whole post on editing your writing so check that out for more tips.
Links, tags and other snippets
You’re almost ready to publish. Before you do that, make a final check on your links. Did you put them all in, and do they work?
If you’re linking to sites where you'd like to get noticed, you can add campaign tags to all your links. This means when your referrals show up in their Google Analytics, they know who to thank. This post from the folks at Buffer explains how it’s done. If you're going to tag your links, do this before you start moving things to your content manager - unless that can put the tags on for you, like Mailchimp does for emails.
There might be other snippets of code you need to add. Affiliate links usually need a ‘nofollow’ tag adding, to avoid getting hexed by Google. (Amazon puts this on affiliate links for you). If you like to add widgets like the PrintFriendly script that I use, you’ll need to find the code snippet and have it ready. And if you’re using anything like sign up forms or downloads, have the content ready to put into the form.
This is where Markdown works well for me. I create all the HTML in IA Writer and just paste it into the Squarespace editor. Much faster than inserting code blocks by hand.
However your editor works, it’s best to get this stuff all set up in a text file ready to paste in. It can be really distracting to get half way through laying out your post and realise you need to stop and design a form.
Lay it out
Now comes the fun bit - setting your post up in your content manager. If you’ve gone through your checklists carefully, this will be just a case of copying and pasting. The post can come together from a collection of JPEGs and text files in a surprisingly short time.
Once you’re happy with how it looks, do a final read through, and check all the links and any forms or downloads.
Yay! You made it. Another post ready to delight your customers.
You aren’t quite done, of course. You still need to promote the thing, with social media and emails. But let’s leave that for another day.
That’s your weekly (or fortnightly, or monthly) routine sorted. Next week, we’ll step back and look at the bigger picture: creating and managing your content calendar.
*These are affiliate links on which I earn a small commission at no cost to you. I only use affiliate links on products or services that I have used myself and would recommend to a friend.