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How to Rethink Your Goals, Find Your Blogging Purpose, and Finally Write Posts People Really Want to Read

How to Rethink Your Goals, Find Your Blogging Purpose, and Finally Write Posts People Really Want to Read

“Don’t call an ambulance… just take me to the hospital…”

It was the summer after my freshman year of college, and my dad was staring up at my from his chair, where he was gripping his chest, pleading with me to not call for help. He had been feeling sick all day, but this wasn’t just the flu. Someone was really wrong.

But calling 9-1-1 made it real.

If we didn’t call an ambulance, maybe it would just be heartburn or food poisoning. Maybe it would just go away on its own.

I ended up making the call. I was just too scared. It was a good thing I did, because my father’s heart stopped twice on the way to the emergency room. If I would have driven him myself, it is very unlikely that he would have survived.

I sat in the waiting room by myself, biting my fingernails until my mom to got to the hospital. She was working at a farmer’s market, so had a really long drive to get there. I don’t know what is worse: being alone with your thoughts as you drive to the hospital where you didn’t know if you’d find your husband alive or being alone with your thoughts and a pair of your dad’s shoes as you wait for you mom to show up so the doctors will finally tell you something.

I don’t know why I grabbed a pair of my dad’s shoes as they were loading him into the ambulance.

For some reason, I was just thinking that he wasn’t wearing shoes, and what if he had to come home in his socks. I think I just wanted to be helpful, and when your world is spinning out of control, you grab onto whatever tangible task you can do to feel like you are in control. For me, it was packing shoes for my dad.

This story has a somewhat happy ending, because my dad did make it. He was very lucky. Having a massive heart attack when you are in your mid-40s is a completely crazy situation, but my dad is a fighter.

Fast forward several years. In 2012, my mom, my sister and I decided to start a food blog. We’ve always loved cooking, but since I lived in Virginia, and they both lived in Pennsylvania, we didn’t get to cook together as often as we wished we could. So, The PinterTest Kitchen was born.

We set some goals for ourselves, to post yummy recipes 3 times per week, and everything was running along smoothly.

Then… life took another turn.

It was a few days before Halloween, and I was getting ready for a friend’s huge haunted house party, when my mom called. My dad was in the hospital again, another heart attack.

This time, a few stents would not fix the problem like they did the first time. The doctor was recommending heart surgery, and he would very likely need a quadruple bypass.

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when someone in your family is very sick and there’s nothing you can do about it?

Yeah, that’s how I felt.

I rushed home to Pennsylvania, and we anxiously pretended to read magazines while waiting for my dad to get out of surgery. We were there so long that the receptionist left to go home. She told us to just pick up the phone on the wall if it rang.

Finally, it did…

(more…)

5 Basic Writing Tips to Help You Start Blogging Today

Blogging comes naturally to me. I kept a Lisa Frank diary when I was a little girl, and had a LiveJournal as a teen before moving to the world of professional blogging. I do recognize that blogging isn’t an easy task for everyone, though. And okay, I’ll admit it: sometimes I stare at the computer screen and wonder what to write.

Which isn’t quite as bad as those moments when I stare at a post I’ve already published and wonder why I thought it was worth publishing. Hey, it happens to the best writers!

Today, I wanted to go over a few basic writing tips that I’ve learned over the years. These tips can help you improve your blogging skills, but remember: the very best way to improve is to actually start writing. Practice, practice, practice, and you’ll be better at anything!

5 Basic Writing Tips to Help You Start Blogging Today

Without further ado, here are my best basic writing tips.

1. Be ready to write whenever the mood strikes you.

As I’m writing this post, it is 1:30 AM, and I need to be up in *number of hours redacted because it is way too depressing* since I have family coming into town tomorrow for a long weekend visit. As much as I need sleep right now, however, I couldn’t stop tossing around this idea for a blog post. And so, I’m sitting at my computer, typing away, and jealously listening to my boyfriend snore.

Even if you don’t go as far as getting out of bed to blog (hey…I don’t have a problem…I can stop at any time…), at least keep a notepad or a phone with a notepad app or a Lisa Frank diary by your bed and with you when you travel. I saw a great quote once: The greatest lie we ever tell ourselves is that we’ll remember something for later. Jot down the basic outline so you can go back and write it later.

Similarly, when you aren’t feelin’ it, step away from the computer screen. If you force a post out of yourself, it won’t be your best work. It’s always better to publish fewer high-quality posts than more mediocre posts.

2. Outline your thoughts before you start writing.

Any writing task won’t seem quite so gargantuan if you break it down into smaller chunks. I like to use this template for an outline:

  • Opening paragraph with thesis
  • Story
  • Supporting point
  • Supporting point
  • Supporting point
  • Wrap up

So, let’s say that I was writing about the best way to treat hairballs in cats. I might outline it like this:

  • Why hairballs suck – and how to fix
  • Story about my cat’s problem with hairballs
  • DIY solution
  • Why DIY is better than medication
  • What to do if DIY solution doesn’t work
  • Call to action to buy my book about cats

Then, I would write a paragraph or two about each. If I asked you to write a 900-word post about cat hairballs, you would probably groan, even if you happen to love talking about cat health. But if you write just 150 words in each of the above sections, you’ll hit your 900 words easily. Eat every elephant one bite at a time.

3. Speak your posts.

My boyfriend is not a writer, and whenever he wants to send out a professional email, he asks to advice to make sure it sounds okay. I always say to him, “Well, tell me what you’re trying to say.”

He can’t write the email, but he can speak it to me.

If you find writing to be a total road blog for you, dictate your blog posts. You can invest in software that will transcribe your spoken posts, or you can send audio files to a VA for manual transcription. Either way, you’ll likely have to do some tweaking to the final project, but this can help you get away from the mental challenge of writing.

4. Write your title first.

I find that new bloggers tend to jump around a lot in their posts. Sometimes it works, but more often it does not. By writing your title first, you know the true goal of the article, and you can make sure every sentence you write relates back to this topic. For example, this post is about basic writing tips to help you start blogging, as I’ve mentioned in the title. I’ve already scrapped a few sections that were more about starting a blog (but not writing) and more about writing (but not about blogging). I’ve also deleted some sections that were a little too advanced to be called basic.

As you write, always keep you title in mind. Be brutal with the red pen to ensure that your posts have a clear topic and point of view. Remember, you don’t have to create comprehensive posts about broad topics. Focus on sharing a single thought with the reader, relating back to your title.

5. Keep your paragraphs short.

Long paragraphs – ugh. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see new bloggers making.

Each paragraph you write should only cover one idea. If you are covering several ideas in a single paragraph, you need to split into two paragraphs, even if that means your paragraphs are very short. It’s better to have shorter paragraphs than longer paragraphs. Remember, writing for the web is not like writing for print sources. If you’re still abiding by the writing rules you learned in college, it’s time to update your style.

In addition to short paragraphs, make sure your blog posts are visually appealing by adding images, bullet points, headings, and other “breaks” in the text. This makes the post more easily scanned, and because it looks less intimidating, more people will stop to read it.

Okay, what are you waiting for? Stop reading and go start blogging!

Get More Long-Term Readers with the Soap Bubble Approach to Blogging

This post was originally published on the NMX blog. It is reposted here with permission.

Traffic spikes can be exciting. It’s fun to watch a post go viral, especially if those new readers are also leaving comments. But when those people leave your blog, they often don’t come back. Getting more long-term readers is a lot harder than getting more traffic.

Ten long-term readers who will become a part of you blog community are better than 100 readers who read one post and never come back, though. It’s hard to grow your blog if you don’t build a solid foundation of readers who are addicted to your posts. One of the techniques I use to convert first-time readers into long-term readers is what I call the soap bubble approach to blogging.

Blog Structure for More Long-Term Readers

The net time you work up a lather in the bathtub or splash some suds on your dirty car, take a close look at structure of the soap bubbles. You’ll notice that it typically isn’t a collection of air pockets that are all the same size. Instead, you’ll see mostly small bubbles that make up the foam with occasional mid-sized and larger bubbles. The small soap bubbles are what creates the sudsy power. Without them, your larger bubbles aren’t very effective.

I find that a lot of bloggers are obsessed with creating epic content. I’m a firm believer that every single post you write should be your best work. However, not every post your write has to be a “big bubble.”

Big bubble content is typically long, evergreen content that is highly sharable and often a comprehensive list or guide to a certain topic. An example of big bubble content is this post: Link Earning: The Ultimate Guide to Link Building in 2014.

But “small bubble” content is just as important. This kind of content is still high quality, but aims to teach a single tip or skill or cover a single topic. An example of small bubble content is this post: Let It Go.

Whenever you write a big bubble type of post, you should be able to link back to at least five other supporting posts on your blog. Think of your big bubble content as a hub for the small bubble content you’ve written in the past.

Why This Leads to More Long-Tem Readers

In general, I’ve found that if someone reads three posts from me, they are likely to come back and read my posts again and again. In many cases, people who read at least three posts are so hooked that they read several posts on your blog. They’ve discovered your content, and they can’t get enough.

Internal linking encourages them to read more content, but this isn’t just about making sure you link to previous posts in every blog post you write. It’s about making sure that you have related posts to support the epic content that is going to get the most attention. Super relevant posts that first-time readers can visit to learn more is going to be extremely enticing.

So, the next time you sit down to write a list post or an ultimate guide or another type of post that you know is going to bring in lots of traffic, ask yourself this question: Do I have enough small bubble content planned on my editorial calendar to support the post?

If not, plan some content before you publish so any post that goes viral encourages people to read more instead of bouncing on to the next website.

This post is part of my personal Year of Blogging challenge. Read about it here!