In the last week at least 5 people have asked me, “how do you come up with so many interesting articles?” To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to write about this topic if Lorelle hadn’t asked me to (anything for you Lorelle!) because I’m afraid it will bore you people to tears! But I’ll do my best to make it somewhat entertaining, just keep plenty of Kleenex nearby in case I fail…
Before we get into the meat of this question (mmmm… meat), its worth noting that I enjoy writing. On top of that, I wrote a lot in my previous life as a corporate executive, so I’ve had plenty of practice (translation – I raise BS to an art level). As a result of my experience, I recommend that all Bloggers examine two fundamental questions:
- Are you really a good writer? If you know you are weak in this area then you need to get some help. (Tip #1) Take a writing course at a community college, or at the very least have someone proofread your work before posting it. A poor writer can make the most interesting topic boring, while a great writer can turn the most mundane task into a true joy to read. (Example: Dr. Seuss on morning breakfast.)
- Do you enjoy writing? Trying to be a Blogger without a fundamental love of writing would be like trying to be a dentist who finds halitosis repugnant. These things just don’t go together, and eventually you are going to quit.
And while we’re just getting started, I will say that I worry that the reason people are asking this question is really because they are searching for a “quick and dirty” source that will make this whole thing easy. I’m sorry to disappoint, but I spend as much time doing this as most people do at their full time job. So if there is an “easy way”, I don’t know it.
But I digress…
Philosophy and Methodology
Back to the topic at hand,
“Where do you come up with the ideas for all of these articles?”
Let’s see, in the last year I’ve written nearly 750 articles, so I suppose that I’m “prolific” in terms of writing frequency. Of course, this is in line with one of my most important personal goals – consistency. (I also appreciate regularity, but that is a different topic.) My readers expect me to deliver at least one new article each day, and no matter what – I do so.
It’s also interesting to note that I broke all the rules by having a blog that doesn’t concentrate on just one specific topic. Frankly, I’d get bored with that. Plus I didn’t start my blog to make money, I did it to share information with family and friends as well as document things for myself to remember and reference later. I’m guessing that these underlying characteristics have played a significant role in the incredible growth it’s seen. (Tip #2) And frankly I’d recommend that everyone else expand their focus a bit if you’re feeling too boxed in.
Many of the articles on One Man’s Blog are completely original content. I’m not sure what the percentage is, but I’d estimate at least 30%. However, I couldn’t fill up my schedule with original content alone because I wouldn’t have time to write that much. (Many of my original articles take a full day or more to write). So in between original content I fill in with interesting things I find elsewhere, or current news events. But I don’t just re-post other people’s content. (Tip #3) I always try to do a little more research and add to the original story with additional information or at least my thoughts on the subject.
Now, if I were to sit down each day and try to come up with something off the top of my head I’d be hard pressed to do so. On average I spend about 3 hours on each article I post. That means that whether it is something original I’ve authored, or something interesting I found elsewhere, 3 hours is the minimum. Problem is, I don’t always have 3 hours to spare.
(Tip #4) For this reason I always have several mostly-complete articles sitting in draft mode. With 15-30 minutes notice I can put out a quality article. If I can’t put out something that I’d want to read, then I’ll put out nothing.
One other thing, I’m always blogging – even when I’m not at my computer. (Tip #5) When I’m not connected, I make notes. Lots of them. Reminders of URLs I heard mentioned on TV or by someone in passing. News that I heard on the radio while driving. Topics of interesting discussions I have with people which are intellectually stimulating. (Tip #6) There are note pads and pens in the armrests of my cars, and I try to keep a little pad of paper in my back pocket at all times. I guess I’m just like a reporter in this sense.
(Tip #7) If I’m reading a magazine and come across an article that inspires me I rip the page out and keep it in a folder. I’ve got hundreds of pages, and if I need inspiration I can search through the folder until I come across something I feel like writing about.
I don’t go searching specifically for content on the Internet. I just read a LOT, and part of the reason for launching my blog in the first place was so that I’d have a place to catalog the most interesting stuff I find while surfing so that I can find it again. (Tip #8) A few of my favorite places to read include:
- Google News
- …And the Blogs of visitors that stop by my site. (You do get to know your visitors don’t you?)
I don’t just read online, I also read more magazines than anyone you know. I love magazines. The writers are usually quite good, and they’ve been facing the same issue as Bloggers since the first editor asked “…great story, now what are you working on for next month”? We can also learn a lot from their writing style.
- Popular Science
- Popular Mechanics
- Men’s Health
- Men’s Fitness
- Smart Money
- PC Magazine
- Maximum PC
- Fast Company
- National Geographic Adventure
- Conde Nast Traveler
- Ornamental & Miscellaneous Metal Fabricator
- Food & Wine
- Car & Driver
- Budget Travel
(Tip #10) Inspiration for some of my articles come from products I use. For example I try to review many of the things I buy, especially if they are expensive or risky purchases, because I know other people search for things like that before they make purchases. Of course, I don’t write the reviews to try to get traffic. I do it to try to help people get an accurate assessment of what the product is like from a real consumer. Google will bring them to a well written article (that’s another subject altogether).
Some examples of my product reviews include:
- My New Canon XH A1 Camcorder
- Creative Zen Vision W Review – 60 GB Personal Media Player
- Review: Netgear WNR854T Wireless Gigabit Router
- Review: VistaPrint.com Business Cards
- PlasmaCAM Part 1
(Tip #12) In addition to product reviews, I try to put up as many travel related reviews as possible (have you read about Lorelle’s travels). Travel decisions are very hard to make, and if someone has a great vacation I’d like to read all about it – in detail – so that I could duplicate it. Unfortunately most people don’t document their vacations the way I typically do. Here are a few of my travel reviews as examples:
- Courtyard Marriott Springfield, VA
- Travel Planning to Kona, Hawaii- A Tutorial
- Night Photography of Washington D.C.
- Weekend in Denver
- Sunset in Santorini
To wrap things up I’d just like to make a few quick points:
- (Tip #13) If you will note, in all of the sample articles I’ve provided there is extensive information, hyperlinking and multimedia. Emulate this style and ensure that your articles are authoritative enought that people really don’t have to go anywhere else to learn more.
- (Tip #14) There is no wrong topic to blog about. As long as you take your time to write an article that is complete and authoritative someone is going to appreciate it. In fact your readers will probably welcome hearing a few “off-topic” stories on occasion, and it makes you more “human” to them.
- (Tip #15) Let’s not forget, the more quality content you have on your site, the more search engine traffic will come your way. As your content grows you will eventually reach a critical mass which will allow your site to sustain an actual community. Keep plugging away and you’ll get there!
- (Tip #16) You must allow comments without requiring registration on your blog. Comments add content, and content brings search engines as well as readers. On my blog people enjoy reading the comments as much as the articles. But you must police the comments and delete useless ones.
As a final note, I’d like to point out that my family is unbelievably patient and tolerant of my dedication to the blog. They realize that I really love doing it, and allow me to stay up half the night, or sit in my office for hours on end. So, if you’re like me I hope you remember to let your loved ones know how much you appreciate their tolerance.