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“I don’t like planning out my blog content,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“I think content is better when it is spontaneous. More fresh,” she said. “When it’s planned out, it’s boring and dry. And I never end up actually writing the stuff on my calendar, which makes me feel bad.”
I could relate. Sort of. Most of my blogging existence has been one of writing at random. On a whim. When I felt like it. When the inspiration was flowing. And it was also super sporadic, once every two weeks, and then three posts in one night. But I still felt that I needed to defend the idea of planning blog content ahead of time, before it was written, to my adamant friend.
So is planning your blog content the answer to great content or its nemesis? If “to plan or not to plan” was a concept that was on trial, let’s see how it would all pan out.
In the case of “to plan or not to plan”, we have six witnesses for blog planning defense:
When that amazing inspiration hits, that’s when you can get some serious blog planning done.
The thing is, inspiration isn’t always a regular friend. It often hits at inconvenient times and places (in the shower, or 2 a.m., or driving down the highway). It’s wonderful when you get in the zone and the words fall out of your head into magical order, but most of the time, writing is an exercise that you practice to get better.
Look at it pragmatically—you could use that wave of creative goodwill on just one post, or you could use it to brainstorm and write quick notes and ideas down for many posts.
When inspiration hits, brainstorm:
As a writer often crunched for time and distracted from getting things done, I’d rather get a lot of ideas lined up than just one post published.
Writing systems are not magic bullets. You can become so obsessed with finding the perfect system that you get nothing done and end up with no system at all.
So no, a blog planning system isn’t magic. But it is a way to shift into gear, get some momentum, and let the words flow easier. Systems are exactly like priming the pump.
When you plan your blog content, you don’t have to be afraid of not knowing what to say. Your system will help you. And, you’ll have time to properly use your system to achieve good final results because you planned and aren’t working in a rush.
Here are two examples of writing systems that work great when you’re planning ahead:
This is a system novelists sometimes use. The idea is that you start small and build structure. The goal is to avoid major rewrites because you do the foundational work in such a way that the final structure falls into place.
The snowflake method has writers start with a one-sentence summary of their book, then a paragraph to describe the plot. Then the characters are developed in a similar way, and so on down the line.
While your planned content might not be a novel, a system that gets you to summarize and build from that summary to create a blog post could easily work.
This type of system, where you start small and at the top of the pyramid, working down to the broader content, is best for detail-oriented people who like control.
I’ve talked in detail about a four-step method I use to write blog posts. It starts wide and loose, unlike the snowflake system, allowing people who work best from inspiration or large ideas dump everything out on the page. Then it systematically helps you prune it back through editing and locating the excess.
This type of system, where you start big and work from the bottom of the pyramid, working up to tighter content, is best for people who get large ideas first and then write them down to details. Or, for people who have a rush of inspiration and ideas and have to write them down before they lose them.
By planning your blog content, you have the chance to work on it, rework it, and finesse it. You have the time.
Blog planning gives you the time to work, more than anything. And that means you can reach that final one-third.
To simplify Tim Hurson’s idea in his book Think Better, we work in thirds.
The first third is bad. The second third is better. The last third is the keeper. That’s the idea behind writing 25 headlines to get one keeper, that’s the idea of waiting until you’ve finished your blog post before writing the introduction.
What you write initially is like rebar. It’s basic, crude, rough. Just the start. Then you pour concrete or put up the drywall in your second round of work. Finally, you finish it out and add the final touches. That’s the final third, where you find the gold.
Too many blog posts out there are rebar content. The initial idea, the bare-bones writing, the surface treatment. If they had had the time, they would have really been finished. What does perfection in that final third involve?
When you plan your content, you get enough time to get past that first third into the good stuff.
With a long and storied history of ridiculousness, I am familiar with the insta-rant that you write and publish in a nanosecond and then spend the next few weeks putting out online fires.
Rants and off-the cuff content can get you into trouble. Letting them sit as a draft for a day or two is the best option. But what’s even better, particularly for a brand? Sticking to an editorial calendar and not relying on rants at all.
When it comes to off-the-cuff content, rants frequently bubble to the top. Yikes. Spare yourself regret, avoid writing and publishing in the same fell swoop, and always stick to the plan no matter what you’re angry or frustrated about in the moment.
I know that having a plan in place and knowing what I will be writing about makes me more aware of what I could use in upcoming blog posts as I’m reading and hopping around the Internet. This actually saves time in the long run.
You can’t do that when you don’t plan.
Organizing ideas so that you can find and use them when you need to is a challenge.
Much of the time, the reason people write in the moment is that they lack a system of storing that idea for a later time when they could write the content better. So they just toss it online so they don’t lose it.
When you plan your blog content, you can plug those ideas into your plan. It’s one of my favorite things about CoSchedule, the ability to gather notes, research, links, conversations, and files right where I’m planning. I don’t have to feel the panic of writing now and hoping I can make it work in the first round. I can put it all together as time allows, and write later according to the plan.
Can’t plan your blog content? You sure as heck won’t be able to create a content strategy.
How can you do any A/B testing if you never plan anything ahead of time? How can you pick out relevant patterns in your analytics? How can you attempt to make improvements to your content, your conversions—your anything—if you don’t plan?
No strategy, no direction, no budget.
Planning ahead with your content goes hand-in-hand with planning your content marketing strategy as a whole.
Are there times when planning your blog content is detrimental? In the case of “to plan or not to plan”, let’s have a look at the witnesses for the prosecution:
Are these legitimate “witnesses” or do they fall apart under scrutiny? Let’s have a look.
You definitely can’t know what the big trend is going to be a month or two ahead of it. That is true.
But planning your blog content means you allow for flexibility when necessary. Your plan can absorb those last-minute trend blog posts if they are an important part of your niche.
Trendy posts are the sprinkles on a cupcake—great to have, but you still need the cupcake or they are just lame sprinkles. The plan gives you the ability to sprinkle trending content on top.
Sometimes planned topics aren’t as interesting to you when it comes time to write them, even if you thought they were a few weeks or months ago. This could lead to boring posts, lackluster writing, or missed deadlines as you put off writing the post.
But if you simply can’t bring yourself to write the content that you aren’t interested in anymore…fine. Don’t write it. Plan extra content ideas so you have the freedom to reject ideas. Give yourself some leeway as part of your plan.
Guess what? This very blog post was planned more than three months ago. When I opened up my CoSchedule editorial calendar to start my scheduled post, I looked at it and thought:
I have nothing to say about this.
In that moment, I didn’t particularly like planned content, either, because writing the plan was not very inspiring. So I reverted to my usual writing system, began the process, primed the word pump, and got the post written.
And here’s the big secret: What might seem like a boring post gets more interesting as you actually start writing it.
The topics you picked a month ago are not relevant or appropriate anymore.
Again, fine. So what? Discard them, find something new, or tweak them so they fit.
The scrap cookie dough left over after cutting out shapes doesn’t make the cookies any less good. In the same way, the topics that can’t be used don’t make the planning any less beneficial.
There truly are moments when you are more inspired to write.
Yes. There are moments when the writing gods smile down on you and gift you with the golden words. So write. Use that. But don’t make that your go-to system for creating content.
They are horribly fickle gods, those jerks, and they are the patrons of blogs that have five fantastic posts spread out over six years.
Admittedly, excessive planning is one of the great procrastinator’s tools.
I’m quite fond of planning. Planning is exciting. It feels like you’re getting things in order while skipping out on the hard part of actually doing something. So, if you’re prone to procrastination, planning your blog content can be a way you make yourself feel better about not actually creating the content.
But that’s your problem with procrastination, not planning.
Find topics that you want to write. Find a system that makes the start of content creation less formidable so you don’t keep putting it off. Don’t blame your blog planning. Figure out why you are procrastinating instead.
While at a recent writing conference, the speaker, a published author, was referring to how she carefully planned out her novels.
“Some of you pantsers might not understand how we outliners work,” she said.
What is a pantser? I wrote in the margin of my notes.
She later explained that a pantser was someone who wrote their novel on the fly, by the seat of their pants, with no outline. They wrote the murder mystery without knowing who the killer was ahead of time, maybe. There are many novelists who agree with that pantser work ethic: don’t outline your content.
This, though, was what my friend was talking about all along, why she didn’t want to “plan” her content: She thought it would make her writing dull. But a plan of what to write has very little effect on how you write.
Those pantser novelists had some things in common with the outliners:
Planned content is no more dull than unplanned content.
Planned content just means you know when you are going to write and what you’ll write about.
The mistake is assuming that if you plan your blog content ahead of time, you lose the ability to write it freely. That you’ll be plodding along, filling in a three-point outline. That’s a writing style problem, not a planning problem.
Planning your blog content is simply knowing ahead of time what you’ll be writing about. At its least-invasive and most basic, it’s a headline and nothing else. Taking it further, it might have notes, or an outline, or research links.
Whatever the case, planning your blog content ahead of time is the best way to be sure you’ll write and publish regularly, and that you’ll be able to create a content marketing strategy that allows for changes and adjustments based on what your analytics and testing are telling you.
Without planning your blog content, you are a ship without sails, at the mercy of giant waves and the doldrums, going all over the place or going nowhere.
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