Blogging is a lot like life. You get out of it as much as you put in.
In 2008, I challenged myself to write a post on my blog every day for a month. When I started, I had no idea that over the years other bloggers would be inspired to take the same challenge. They have – hundreds of them. Some have used the WordCount Blogathon to launch a blog or revive a dormant one, improve their prose for other types of writing, and find work as paid bloggers.
Through the years, I’ve seen that the bloggers who get the most out of a blogging challenge such as the WordCount Blogathon or BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo are the ones who plan and train for it. Runners don’t sign up for a marathon the week before the race. Good ones put in months of training ahead of time, gradually increasing the distance of their training runs before the big event.
Bloggers need to do the same thing: sign up early, chart out a course of how to make it through, and then practice, practice, practice.
Blog Challenge Lessons Learned
If you’re considering participating in a blogging challenge, here’s advice taken from years of running the Blogathon:
1. Don’t wait until the last minute to sign up.
Inevitably,bloggers who sign up for the WordCount Blogathon at the last minute are some of the first to drop out. They hear about it from a friend, think it sounds fun, and register without realizing what they’re getting themselves into. At first it’s easy to write something every day. Then week two rolls around and ideas are harder to come by, or something comes up at work or home that throws them off, or they have a trip planned, and oops, a day goes by without a post. Then two. Then they think, I already blew it, why keep going? And they quit.
What to do instead? If you have a blog and are considering doing a blogging challenge, see what’s out there, look at your calendar, pick a time that works for your schedule, and start to plan.
2. Pick a theme.
Many beginners treat a blog like a diary, writing about whatever strikes their fancy that day. That’s fine as far as it goes. But making it through a blogging challenge, whether it’s for a week or a month, is a whole lot easier if you give yourself something specific to write about. Crazy as it sounds, it’s actually easier to come up with topics for blog posts that fit a theme than it is to come up with something new every day — because some days your idea bank will be running on fumes. Also – readers like knowing what to expect, and by making your posts more universal, you’ll appeal to more of them.
What theme to pick? Freelance writers often blog about the subjects they cover or want to cover. Other bloggers pick an avocation, hobby or interest to write about, whether that’s knitting, books, or staying fit over 50. Entrepreneurs or small business owners have a built-in subject matter: they can write about their services, or offer advice to current and prospective customers. Read more: 10 places writers can find story ideas.
Whatever you choose, brainstorm before the blogging challenge starts. Jot down different things you might want to write about, and then pick the best ones and put them on the calendar.
3. Create a schedule and stick to it.
At its heart, a blogging challenge is about creating a new habit, the habit of writing every day. The best way to form a habit is to do the same thing, in the same way at the same time every day.
For me, that means setting aside a specific amount of time to write at the same time every day. I typically write posts at the beginning of my work day – then it’s done and I can focus on whatever else I have going on that day. I also use it as a writing prompt to warm up for larger assignments I’m working on. Some bloggers write late at night, or carve out a few hours on the weekend to do a week’s worth of posts.
Creating a schedule also means running posts on certain days of the week, every week. Think you can handle doing three posts a week? Run them Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Only two? Check your blog stats to see which days of the week you get the most page views, and schedule your two posts to run those days.
Creating a schedule also could mean running certain types of blog posts on certain days of the week. Some bloggers do a”Wordless Wednesday” post where they share a photo or video. Some run a Friday or weekend roundup of links to good things they’ve found during the week. I’ve previously run guest posts on Tuesdays, an advice column on Thursdays and good reads for writers on Fridays. Running regular features helps me plan, and gives me an excuse for going on Twitter and Facebook, I’m doing research for blog posts!
4. Use tools.
Planning posts and sticking to a schedule is a lot easier if you use tools to help with the one. One of the most important is an editorial calendar. I know some bloggers who use Google Calendar to schedule posts. I use a WordPress editorial calendar plug in, which has a calendar-type display that I can use to rough out posts, and drag and drop posts if I decide to move posts to different dates.
Editorial calendars aren’t the only tech tools that can make blogging easier. Some bloggers use Evernote to clip and save articles or other information they find online that they want to link to in posts. Others write posts in Evernote, then copy and past them into their WordPress or Blogger blogs. There are also tools for making sure posts are SEO ready, and once they’re done, sharing them on social media like Facebook and Twitter — all the better to promote your work.
Read more: My 5 favorite apps for writing and blogging.
5. Don’t let blogging take over your life.
Every year, bloggers tell me about the hours they spent writing daily posts. Not good. Blogging should not take over your life. If you have a plan, you should be able to write a 300 to 500 word post in an hour or less, including adding a title, description, links, keywords or tags, and image. Read more: How to write short.
Not all posts are created equal. You might write one a week that’s longer, and then balance it out with a Wordless Wednesday post that consists of a photo, video or word cloud. If you’ve got posts on evergreen subjects that continue to get page views, re-run them once a year. Update a few details, schedule when the post should run, and bam, you’re done in under 15 minutes.
To keep up the habit of regular blogging after a blogging challenge has ended, you have to figure out a way to integrate the activity into your regular schedule. That means planning, sticking to a theme, maintaining a schedule for producing posts, and using tech tools to make it work.
Here’s what some of the bloggers in the 2013 WordCount Blogathon said about what they learned: Bloggers share wisdom gained from a month-long blogging challenge.
[Flickr photo by Stijlfoto]