I presented the following at WordCamp US 2015. Enjoy!
You’re an awesome blogger, right? You never run out of ideas, you work your full time job, exercise daily, manage your household, and still publish regularly on your blog. You post exciting content every day and can sustain your level of blogging forever and ever, amiright?
Yeah. Me neither.
Days go by, and then weeks. You think about how good posting would feel: to write, to publish, to get those likes and comments. But you don’t actually do anything about it. The longer your blog sits untouched, the more pressure you feel to make your next post AWESOME to make up for being a slacker. Which of course means you now have writer’s block, because really, who can write under the pressure of having to write something amazing? So you don’t post. Your visitors leave. Your views trickle down to zero. You feel like a terrible blogger and you go cry in a corner.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
I found a way to make time for your blog so that you can not only fit it into your life, but so that you have something to write about every time you put fingers to keyboard.
My name is Andrea Badgley and I’ve been blogging for four years on my personal site here at andreabadgley.com. When I first started my blog, I was a stay-at-home mom and published multiple times a week. I had a decent following, and was gaining more online friends every day.
But when I started working full time, I no longer had time or focus for my blog. I stopped publishing regularly. My views and followers dwindled. I felt bad about myself for neglecting the blog that I had not only grown to love, but that helped me find my career path with WordPress.com.
Abandoning my blog was not okay with me. So I tried to figure out what was keeping me from blogging. I determined that I had two blockers:
During my blogging drought, I’d think, I don’t have time for my blog anymore, or if I made time, I’d sit down with my pen and paper only to be blocked by, I don’t have anything interesting to say. So I came up with a way to make time, and I devised a tool that ensured I’d never run out of topics.
First, let’s talk about time.
Carve out 10 minutes per day
I was once a member of a group who met weekly to write together. We often did what’s called a free-write: we’d set a timer, write for 10 minutes without lifting our pens from the page, and when the timer dinged, we put our pens down and read what we wrote.
To make time in my life for blogging, I iterated on the idea of the free-write and decided to carve 10 minutes out of my day, every day, to write.
Ten minutes is so little. You can do it after a 6AM workout, when an early morning run has gotten your creative juices flowing. Or you can do it as soon as you wake, when you’re still in a dream state. Or you can do it on lunch, or with a cocktail. Or in bed when you realize, oh crap, I haven’t written yet today.
The main thing to remember is that ten minutes can be squeezed in anywhere in the day.
To really make this work, here’s a pro-tip: Create a trigger. Carve out a specific time of day and create a cue for your writing time so that you will make a habit of it. Set an alarm for when you want to write, and give yourself a reward for following through: a peaceful house in the early morning, or an afternoon cup of coffee to go with your writing time. Pairing a trigger, like an alarm, with a reward, like coffee, will help you build a habit of writing every day.
Keep topics on hand
The ten-minute write takes care of the time issue, but what about topics?
Again, I’ll turn to a writing group strategy. At our gatherings, we placed a silver engraved box filled with folded slips of paper in the middle of the table. At the beginning of each free write, one of us would pull a piece of paper from the box and read the words written on it aloud. We’d then write for ten minutes about whatever the prompt was.
This same strategy works for blogging. To create a prompt box, snip a sheet of paper into about 30 slips. On each slip, write a word or phrase that has meaning to you. Examples of some of mine are thunderstorms, rolling pins, and salt marshes. If you’re writing for a business site, you could seed your box with employee names, materials you use, or anything unique to your business or the way it operates.
Once you’ve written your prompts, fold the slips and place them in a box or some other vessel. Whenever you sit down to write, if you have nothing to say, pull a prompt out and start writing.
Timer + Prompt Box = Writing
To overcome writer’s block and start publishing again, pair the ten-minute free write with the prompt box. During the time you’ve carved out for your writing, grab your timer and your box. Pull a prompt, write for ten minutes, and when the timer dings, stop writing. That’s it.
Does this really work? What about editing?
In April 2015, I dedicated to publishing a 10-minute write every day for 30 days. Each morning, beginning March 31, I poured a cup of coffee before my work day started, pulled a slip of paper from my prompt box, started a timer, and wrote until the timer dinged. I did a quick scan for spelling and punctuation errors, tagged the post AprilDaily, then scheduled the post to publish the following morning.
The scheduling delay allowed me to do additional editing if I wanted to, but I rarely did. Why didn’t I edit? Because during that month, I learned to live by this creed:
Perfect is the enemy of Done.
Publishing this way is liberating. Some posts will bomb, but some posts will take off more than you can anticipate. It’s like shooting 100 frames to get the right photograph: every shot isn’t going to be brilliant, but each click of the shutter helps you improve and sets you up for when a prime moment arrives for you to capture it; because you’ve been practicing, and because you’re ready, you’ll capture it beautifully.
Using the prompt box and the timer, I published every day in the month of April. My blog no longer sat empty and neglected. Visitor climbed 26%, and views increased 45% over the previous month, from 3700 in March to 5400 views in April. My blog was active again, and readers loved the spontaneity of it. In fact, they got involved by sending me prompts. When I wrote from a reader’s prompt, I gave credit and linked back to their site, helping build community.
Giving yourself meaningful topics to write about and then carving out the time to write will get you not only practicing, but will get you publishing again. It will make your blog active and will bring visitors to your site.
Starting is the hardest part. Once you start, the writer’s block wall will begin to crumble. By making a habit of writing, and by making sure you always have topics on hand, you’ll be able to reduce that wall to a pile of rubble that you can easily kick out of your way.
So how do you get started? Create a prompt box. Make a list of 20 things you love: moss, mountains, bacon, brioche. When you are out in the world, whether eavesdropping in a coffee shop or watching an acorn roll across the sidewalk, make notes of objects or scenes that strike you. Record a voice memo on your phone or ink these ideas on your hand if you have to so you can remember them. When you return home, add those mementos to your prompt box.
- If you’re really worried about editing, set your timer for 7 minutes to give yourself 3 minutes for edits.
- Write every day, but publish every other day. This will allow you to stockpile posts for when you are on vacation or for those days when you don’t want to share what you’ve written.
- To mix it up for your readers, keep a handful of photos on hand. A compelling photograph with a well-written caption doesn’t require a long blog post and can take only minutes to craft.
- Getting Started with a Prompt Box on The Daily Post: The Art and Craft of Blogging
- AprilDaily posts, where I published a 10-minute write every day during the month of April
- NovemberDaily posts, where I replicated the AprilDaily experiment and had similar results with increases in visitors and and views
If you have questions or decide to try publishing in 10 minutes per day, I’d love to hear about it. Let’s keep the conversation going with the hashtag #10minwri. Have fun!
Special thanks to my writing partners at The Joyful Quill for introducing me to the 10-minute-write, and to Luca Sartoni and GetSpeak.in for the tremendous support helping me prepare for this presentation.