I set a goal for myself in 2021 to try to post something every day. I wasn’t sure how that would go when I started out, but 217 days into 2021 (as I write this), I’ve been successful. I’ve made at least one post every day. On 28 of those days, I’ve made more than one post. Since I sometimes get questions about writing a blog, starting a blog, and the ever-popular how to build an audience, I thought I’d spend a little time writing about my process for posting every day on the blog.
The key word being posting, not necessarily writing every day. As I have said elsewhere, streaks can be a helpful form of encouragement, but they can also weigh you down. I don’t want that kind of pressure. So while I try to write every day, there are times when I don’t. Instead, I try to get a post out every day often by writing several posts ahead to give me a buffer.
With that in mind, let me tackle this a bit more systematically. I’ll start with the ideas and go from there.
Weeding: Separating good from bad ideas
For me, getting ideas is not a problem. It never has been. The challenge is weeding out the bad ideas and keeping just the good ones. On a typical day, I might jot down four to six ideas for posts. On a recent 2-page spread of my Field Notes notebook, I saw 7 ideas noted. I make ideas easy to identify by prefixing them with a P in a circle.
For those who may have difficulty deciphering my handwriting, here is a translation of the 7 ideas that appear on these pages:
- Sounds of SM (Santa Monica)
- What to say to WETA
- Job Titles w/Numbers
- Writing process for the blog
- 3 million views
- First trip to library
Regular readers will see that some, but not all of these ideas were eventually turned into posts. Two of the 7 ideas never made it, yet, anyway. “Sounds of Santa Monica” was an idea I had for an internal blog I do at work, about the music I remember listening to when I worked in our Santa Monica office from 1994-2002. The “What to Say to WETA” post evolved into a recent post on Unposted Writings.
The trick to this is figuring out: what is a bad idea and what is a good one? If I had the answer to that, I’d have a development deal with a major studio and at least a dozen number one box office blockbusters under my belt. Here is what I can say about this: I’ve been writing this blog for nearly 16 years. I am coming up on 7,000 posts totaling 2.7 million words. I am just beginning to get an inkling of what separates a good idea from a bad one. And I’m still not entirely sure. Sometimes, I am just so excited about the idea that it practically writes itself. Other times, I ask myself questions:
- Would this make a good essay? I tend to think of these posts as essays.
- Have I written about this before? With nearly 7,000 posts it is likely.
- If I have written about this before, do I have something new to add? Have I changed my mind about something?
Interestingly, what I don’t tend to ask myself is: is this something my audience would like?
Idea Drafts: Where I store the good ideas
Once I’ve decided I have a good idea, I immediately created a draft in WordPress with a title and possibly a few notes that happen to be in my head for the idea. The notes are usually just bullet points to remind myself of things I want to include in the piece. Here is what the idea draft for this post looked like after I got the idea back on July 26:
- using drafts
- post length, ~600 words
- writing off the top of my head, rough outlines at best
- what to write about? where do i get my ideas?
- pure enjoyment
- writing ahead when I know I’ll be unavailable
- trying to stay ahead to reduce pressure
I don’t always write the post as soon as I know I have a good idea. The Idea Draft serves as a reminder of things that I want to write about when the mood strikes me. Sometime, I do write the posts immediately. The draft then moves into a “scheduled” or “published” state. But often times Idea Drafts sit in the WordPress Drafts folder for while. In this case of this post, a while was ten days. Having a bunch of Idea Drafts sets me up for my daily writing.
Daily Writing: Where the ideas become posts
As part of my morning routine, I set aside an hour to write. During that time, I can write, or I can stare at a blank screen. But I can’t do anything else. I generally aim for about 600 words on the average post and over the years, I’ve gotten a good feel for when I hit that mark. If things are going well, I can write a typical post in 20-30 minutes. That means, on a good morning, I can sometimes write two or three posts. On other mornings, I manage to write only one. Sometimes, that is because it is a longer post, or takes a while to put together. Other times it is because I am struggling with the idea and can’t quite get it to work the way I want.
This is where good ideas can die, and become unposted writing.
Generally, I look forward to writing every morning. For me it is pure enjoyment, even when I struggle. Struggling means I am learning the hard way, but learning nevertheless. The writing comes after my morning walk, and after my meditation, and with those two things done, I am usually keen to work on one or more of the Idea Drafts. Once I get started, I write off the top of my head, using or discarding any notes I’ve made as I see fit.
The hour each day is what I set aside for myself to write. It is not a limit, however. If I have more to write, I’ll look to carve out more time later in the day (usually in the evenings) to write more.
Planning ahead, or posting while ghosting
To help keep the pressure off the daily writing, I plan ahead. I try to have at least 2-3 days of posts scheduled in advance so that you are typically reading them 2-3 days after they were written. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes, I have a plan ahead a little more. For instance, I wanted to make sure I had no pressure to write every day on our recent road trip vacation. So in the week leading up to our vacation, I made sure I had posts scheduled throughout the vacation. I was largely successful–except for today. I left the Friday slot open (even though I’d scheduled Saturday and Sunday) because this is the slot that I’ve used recently for my Weekly Playbook posts. I was on the fence about whether I’d do one of these for vacation, and decided to wait and see. In the end, I wrote this post instead, because it had been waiting its turn a long time (ten days!)
This does help keep the pressure off. Knowing that I have a two or three day buffer means I don’t feel like I have to write something every day. My streak isn’t about writing every day as much as it is writing what I enjoy as much as I can. Indeed, I don’t even keep track of how much I write or how often I write day-to-day. The only thing I keep my eye on is if I am posting every day. That can make it seem like I am writing every day, but rest assured, there are days when I am posting while ghosting. I had a few of these days on our recent vacation.
This process may not work for everyone, but it works for me. I wake up each morning knowing that I have a post coming out, whether I can finish a new post that morning or not. I feel particularly good on the days when I can get two or three posts written and scheduled, knowing that expands my buffer a bit. A bigger buffer allows me to write the occasional longer post (like this one). Your mileage may vary. The important thing I’ve learned over the years is to try different methods until you find one that works for you. Posts like this provide one possibly method. There are many others.
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