Stuck in the Blogging Rut? Think Like a Magazine Editor-in-Chief

Note to self: Write weekly blog post today. But you’re stuck. No brilliant ideas. The words just won’t come.

Sound familiar? Take a break from your computer. Forget about the Internet for a while and sit down with a copy of your favorite magazine. Yes, a magazine. Traditional print media. There’s a lot you can learn about blogging from a magazine if you approach your blog as an editor-in-chief.

Your Blog is Not Just a Series of Random Posts
As editor-in-chief of your blog (and lead writer), you don’t just churn out random posts. You make decisions about content based on a solid knowledge of your target audience. You plan issues well in advance of publication, including short features in regular departments and longer, special in-depth stories.

You may structure your issues around themes and develop those themes in a series of linked feature stories. You include a mix of stories—how-to’s, breaking news, commentary, thought pieces, profiles of fascinating people.

If you think of your blog as a multi-faceted magazine, you begin to see it as a coherent publication with a series of related topics that you develop, thoughtfully, over time, rather than as a hole to fill each week with something brilliant.

As I’m writing this post, I’m scanning a recent issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, one of my favorite publications and a great resource, if, like me, you’re pushing your writing frontier to create fiction.

Develop a Theme for a Series
This particular issue focuses on literary agents—a hot topic for writers striving to break into publishing—and includes a feature story on four agents who “turned their debut writers into last summer’s hot new authors” plus a companion piece, How Agents Operate.

Blogger’s Takeaway: Select a relevant theme for your audience and create a series of posts that you can publish over a period of weeks or months. Work out a publication schedule. Do your research. You can write the series all at once or over a period of weeks. The advantage of developing a themed series is that it enables you to dig into a substantive topic of interest and frees you from that deadline panic of what to write about this week. This content can also form the basis for a short e-course or the foundation for an e-book.

Capture Your Audience’s Attention with Page-Turning Headlines
Here are a few samples from this issue:

  • Decisions, Decisions: Three Different Paths to Publication
  • Network: How to Use Twitter to Connect with Readers
  • Grants & Awards: Over 50 Upcoming Deadlines, plus 10 New Awards, and 202 Recent Winners.

Notice that the payoff is articulated clearly in each headline. If you want to get your fiction or poetry published, you’re going to check out these articles.

Blogger’s Takeaway: Strong, smart, compelling headlines are crucial to getting blog traffic. Copyblogger Media is a terrific source for how to write great headlines (and for a raft of other excellent advice about web-based content development). Here’s a link to their series, How to Write Magnetic Headlines.

Encourage Your Audience to Tell You What They Think
Magazines have been doing this for years with Letters to the Editor. In my copy of Poets & Writers, people wrote letters about the struggle of writing when you have a full-time job versus writing full-time, the inspiration derived from a profile of author Tayari Jones, and writing craft—in this case, how to write violent scenes without alienating your reader with too much gore!

Of course, they’re responding to articles in previous issues, but the questions and comments in these letters point to the kinds of articles readers would like to see in the future—about authors who’ve made it and how they got there, the day-to-day struggle of creative writing, how to sharpen your writing technique.

Blogger’s Takeaway: If you’re getting thoughtful feedback on your posts, congratulations, and take it seriously as a source for more content. If your blog is still new and you’re in the early stages of developing an audience, go to where your ideal client hangs out, on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and listen in to the conversation. The Internet is a great free resource for market research. Use that research as the basis for future blog posts.

Excellent Writing Counts
I wouldn’t read Poets & Writers unless the quality of writing matched the content. But that isn’t just significant for a writer’s magazine targeting readers with high standards. Your writing is a reflection and expression of who you are. If you churn out a post filled with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and a bunch of disorganized nonsense, anyone who reads it will assume that you’re careless and disorganized, too.

Blogger’s Takeaway: Invest the time and effort to create excellent content. Great blog posts take a lot of thought, writing and revision—to get the content right, the headlines right and the strategy right. In addition to Copyblogger, check out the Content Marketing Institute for outstanding advice about how to improve your own content.


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