Category Archives: Writing

Blogging Advice: Brainstorming and Idea Management

Welcome back to my series on blogging advice. There were a few reader questions in the first instalment, How to Begin Blogging, about the actual process of creating a blog, so I thought I’d take a moment to briefly address that. I’ll share a link to that post at the end of this one for anyone who would like to read or reread it.

I was originally planning to write a full post about the process of creating a new blog, but the official instructions for setting up new WordPress sites were so clear and easy to follow that I decided to link to them instead. There’s no use in reinventing the wheel when it already exists!

If you’re interested in setting up a tumblr account, check out this tutorial.

If you’re interested in setting up a medium account, go read this post.

Now to move on to what I think is one of the most exciting portions of blogging: brainstorming ideas and creating new posts.

Brainstorming

Today I’m going to assume that you’ve chosen a few topics for your blog. It’s perfectly acceptable if you’re still not entirely sure what all of them will be as long as you’ve made up your mind about at least one of the things you’re planning to write about. Other ideas might come to you as you explore the topic(s) that first came to mind.

Before you write a single word, do as much brainstorming and research as possible. Approach your topic from every single angle you can possibly imagine regardless of how likely it is that you might actually blog about them.

For example, if I were going to start a new site about rabbits, my favourite animal, my list would include lots of typical posts about what to feed them, how to teach them tricks, or when to call a veterinarian if they became ill. Mixed in with those ideas would also be potentially quirkier ideas on this topic like:

  • Famous Stories, Myths, and Folklore About Rabbits
  • Should You Date Someone Your Rabbit Hates?
  • How Rabbit Care Has Evolved Over the Last X Years
  • Human Foods Rabbits Should (or Should Never) Eat
  • Is It Dangerous for Rabbits to Chew on Christmas Trees?
  • What Rabbits Think of Fireworks
  • How to Respond to People Who Joke About Eating Your Pet Rabbit
  • Should You Take Your Rabbit on Vacation?
  • Keeping Rabbits Safe at the Beach/Mountains/etc.
  • Types of Music Rabbits Do (or Don’t) Like
  • Halloween Costumes for Rabbits
  • How to Befriend a Shy Rabbit
  • What Will Rabbits Look Like After Another Million Years of Evolution?
  • What Do Rabbits Really Think of Humans?
  • Where to Find Your Rabbit When He’s Hiding Somewhere in the House and Won’t Come Out
  • Help! My Rabbit Just Ate a Chicken Nugget!*

Yes, some of these titles might sound a little like clickbait, and I certainly wouldn’t use everything that popped into my mind as I was writing. The point of brainstorming is to come up with as many possibilities as you can without worrying about whether any or all of them are actually useful at this point. Instead, follow every single rabbit trail – pun intended – as far as it will go and see what you come up with.

*This was a real conversation I read on Reddit a while ago. The bunny in question suffered no ill-effects from his snack, although no one could figure out why a fluffy little herbivore would want to eat a chicken nugget in the first place. Maybe he or she saw a commercial for their favourite fast food restaurant or something? Ha!

Managing Ideas

Keep Track of Everything

Once you’ve come up with a preliminary list of ideas for your site, it’s time to figure out what to do with them until you decide whether or when to use them.

I highly recommend holding onto every idea that has the slightest chance of being used. There’s a file on my computer filled with potential ideas that I’ve been referencing, taking inspiration from, and adding new possibilities to for years now. It’s an invaluable source of information for me on those days when I have a blogging deadline looming and no clue what to write for that post.

Some of the bloggers I’ve met prefer to write their ideas down in a notebook instead. However you decide to do it, make sure your list is somewhere safe and accessible.

The Sorting and Grouping Process

Once you’ve made your list and checked it twice, start sorting your ideas out into various groups. For example, I’d pick out all of the holiday-themed prompts in my hypothetical brainstorming list above and start tentatively assigning them publication dates on or near those actual events.

  • Should You Date Someone Your Rabbit Hates? (February 14)
  • Can You Take Your Rabbit on Vacation? (June 10)
  • What Rabbits Think of Fireworks (July 2)
  • Keeping Rabbits Safe at the Beach/Mountains/etc. (August 1)
  • Halloween Costumes for Rabbits (October 20)
  • Is It Dangerous for Rabbits to Chew on Christmas Trees? (December 8)

If you only want to publish one new post a week, you’ve just knocked out six of the fifty-two posts you’ll need for the entire year. That’s more than 10% of your goal! In addition, someone who knew rabbits well well could easily come up with another half-dozen topics that are tailored to specific times of the year if they put their minds to it.

It might also be interesting to pick a broad theme like food and spend a few consecutive posts talking about what rabbits should eat daily, occasionally, or never. I might then round off that series with a short and funny anecdote about a rabbit who couldn’t resist the lure of a chicken nugget before talking about the warning signs that your pet bunny has eaten something dangerous and when he or she might need to be medically treated for it.

There’s something fascinating about seeing how many different ideas one brainstorming session can create.

Mixing It Up

With that being said, I’d also recommend mixing up your posting schedule in general. If your last few posts were about heavy topics, it might be time for something lighthearted. Something that clocked in at several thousand words might be best followed by a shorter post if your subject matter allowed for it.

Work Ahead When Possible

The beautiful thing about planning at least some of your posts out in advance like this is that it allows you to work ahead. If you know you’ll be on vacation or recovering from an elective medical procedure at a specific time and already have an inkling of what you might want to say then, why not get those posts written well ahead of time?

When possible, I also like to have a few posts sitting in my queue that could be published at any time of the year. This comes in handy for everything from power outages to illnesses that can make it hard to write new content on a deadline occasionally.

Series, Responses, and Other Renewable Writing Resources

This is where series, response posts, and other renewable writing resources come in quite handy.

To continue with today’s theme, if you’ve already written one post about games to play with domesticated rabbits, you might be able to come up with several more suggestions on keeping rabbits entertained, fit, and mentally stimulated that would work beautifully as a follow-up to the original.

Response posts are another favourite of mine. Occasionally, one of the bloggers I follow writes something that I have the uncontrollable urge to respond to with a post of my own. Not only is this a great way to generate new ideas, linking to the original will give that blogger some new traffic and may encourage them to alert their readers about your post, too.

The possibilities here are nearly endless. They can also include contests, year-end reviews of your most popular posts, blog hops, contests, interviews with people in your field, and so much more. I encourage you to try many different types of posts as you feel out what your audience is interested in and, of course, what it is you actually want to write about.

How do you all come up with fresh content for your sites?

The next instalment in this series will be discussing how to find and photos and other visual aides in your posts, so stay tuned!

Additional reading:

Blogging Advice: How to Begin Blogging

15 Things I’ve Learned From 15 Years of Blogging

Blogging Advice: How to Begin a Blog

Last month, Ruth Feiertag  left a friendly comment on one of my posts asking for blogging advice. Not only did I have far more to say to her than would fit into a comment, I thought her question would be an excellent jumping off point for a new series on this site.

Today I’m going to be talking about starting a blog, from figuring out which blogging platform to use to choosing the topic(s) you want to talk about.

I don’t know how many other posts will be in this series yet, but in the future I would like to also cover:

  • Social Media and networking in general
  • How to come up with new blogging ideas
  • How to handle writing slumps
  • When and how to promote posts, both old and new alike
  • Why it’s so important to include photos in posts.
  • Where to find free stock photos that are either in the public domain or can be used if you attribute them to the original photographer.

Some of these topics will be combined into one post. Others will probably need their own post to explore in greater depth. If Ruth or anyone else can think of other topics to cover in this series, please speak up. I’m quite open to suggestion.

In the meantime, let’s talk about starting or revamping a blog. As always, there are no affiliate links, and I’m not being compensated in any other way for mentioning the sites I will in a moment. I’m strictly speaking about them from the perspective of a user/visitor.

Pick a Hosting Site

The most common hosting sites I see on the sites in my RSS feed these days are WordPress, Tumblr, and Medium. While I’ve opted to pay for my own domain name, all three of these sites can be used for free and don’t require any knowledge of HTML or other programming languages in order to use them. In general, I’d recommend using the free versions of things like these and figuring out if you like them before you think about upgrading.

Tumblr seems to be particularly popular among people who write about niches that have a high rate of audience feedback and participation. It is a highly customizable site, and it has reblogging features that work well Every Tumblr page will have a different feel, of course, but in general I’ve noticed that the culture there tends to favour gifs, pictures, running jokes, pop culture references, and much shorter pieces of text.

Medium is a newer blogging platform that reminds me of what newspapers used to be like. From what I’ve observed, it often attracts serious subject matter and audiences. It’s not uncommon to find 1000+ word posts there, and some of them are much longer than that.

WordPress is what I use, and it seems to be one of the most popular options for bloggers in general these days.  I love how easy it is to customize the look of a WordPress site. They also have free Plugins you can download that will help you do everything from screen out spam comments to set up a mailing list to create a contact form if you want to give your readers an easy way to email you.

Again, these are all generalizations. I encourage you to do your own research before deciding which platform works best for your your needs.

Choose Topic(s) of Interest

It’s been my experience that blogs have a much easier time finding and keeping audiences if you limit the number of topics you talk about. My topics are as follows: writing, fitness, mindfulness, and anything related to the sci-fi/fantasy or horror genres.

I’ll occasionally step away from that list to tell stories from my personal life, but my readers know that at least 90% of the things I write about will somehow be related to one of the categories listed above.

What you put on your list is a highly personal decision. I’ve seen several bloggers pick one area of interest and dig deeply into it. This option seems to work best for very broad topics like history or art that can be approached from many different perspectives.  Three to five areas of interest seem to be most common, though.

Find a Posting Schedule that Works for You

As a longtime blogger, writing posts on a strict schedule works best for me. I’ve had new posts coming out on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays on this site for years, and I love the predictability of that even if the days themselves might shift over time.

I follow people who post once a day, once a week, or whenever the mood hits them. While I do prefer structured posting schedules as a reader, I know that not everyone is able to commit to writing that often or that regularly. The important thing is that you find something that works for you over the long term and that you communicate any major changes to those patterns with your readers, if possible.

I don’t worry if a site that normally posts on Wednesdays skips a week or two (especially during busy times of the year), but I do get a little concerned when there has been six months of silence from someone who used to post daily.

Are they okay? Have they been abducted by werewolves? Will they ever blog on that site again, or is this a temporary hiatus? It sure is helpful when people share information like this with their readers if they know they’re going to be taking a long break or will soon be posting much more or less than they usually do.

 

Additional reading:

15 Things I’ve Learned From 15 Years of Blogging

People Watching and the Holidays

Like many other places, Toronto’s malls, subway system, and other public places are bustling with activity at this time of the year. No matter when someone might use or visit them in the month of December, there will be far more folks there than will be the case in January when the new year has finally arrived and everyone has settled back into their usual routines.

One of the things I like about this point in the winter holiday season are the opportunities it gives for people watching. I will be returning to the usual subjects for this blog soon, but I can’t stop thinking about this topic and thought it would make a good one for today.

There are so many folks out and about now that all of the stories they tell with their body language, facial expressions, and the occasional, accidentally overheard conversations provide endless scope for the imagination. You can learn so much about them by paying attention to how they behave when they think no one has noticed them.

I love seeing how people and animals interact with strangers, loved ones, and everyone in-between. You can learn a lot about someone based on how they present themselves and how they behave in public.

Dogs wiggle in excitement when their favourite, or sometimes any, human walks around the corner and into view. The occasional pet snakes, parrots, rabbits, and cats that I’ve seen folks carry around don’t seem to have a strong opinion about our species either way. Small children stare wide-eyed at the holiday displays, decorations, and advertisements in stores. Friends reunite, families figure out what to eat for lunch, couples embrace, and a million other interesting things happen simultaneously wherever large crowds of people gather.

There’s nothing like watching strangers live out these fleeting moments in their lives. The writerly portion of my mind can’t help but to make up stories about who these individuals are and what might happen to them after they’ve finished their to-do list and gone back home.

Not knowing if my guesses are actually correct or not only makes me more interested in continuing to play this game. Everyone that I’ve ever met has portions of their personalities, identities, and interests that aren’t easily or immediately noticeable when you first meet them. I love it when I notice little hints about these parts of themselves however those hints might be shared.

To be perfectly clear, this isn’t about stereotyping anyone or assuming that because they’re X they must love/hate/be indifferent to Y. (Let X and Y stand for whatever your imagination desires. I did not have anything specific in mind when I typed that sentence).

Instead, it’s about seeing how real people behave on a perfectly ordinary day that stands a very good chance of being neither the worst nor the best one they’re ever going to experience. In fact, they might not remember anything about it at all six months from now. They’re simply a regular person (or, in some cases, animal) going through the routines of their lives.

It’s the patterns that interest me the most. There are certain behaviours that just about everyone seems to share, especially when they’re feeling happy, hungry, or tired. On the other hand, I love seeing glimpses of the things that make each person unique.

I’m still looking forward to the quieter days to come in January, but in the meantime I’ll keep a friendly eye out for all of the things you can learn about strangers by noticing how they behave in public.

Do you like people watching? If so, when was the last time you did it?

Blogging Changes I’m Making This Winter

Every time one of my favourite blogs shares a post with a title similar to this one, I get a little nervous about them shutting down or going on hiatius. If you’re the same way, don’t worry! lydiaschoch.com isn’t going anywhere.

I have and will be making some changes to this site that I wanted to let my readers know about, though.

All of these changes are being done in hopes of driving more traffic to this site. I’m confident about my writing abilities, but in 2019 I’d like to become better at marketing the things I create so that new audiences can discover my blog and my stories.

Marketing is something that I honestly struggle a bit with, so if you have any advice I’d sure like to hear it. Comment on this post or send me a DM on Twitter if you’re interested.

In the meantime, here are the things that have, will, or may be changing on this site in the near future. Not everything is set in stone yet, but this is the direction I’m thinking about taking in the new year.

Comments on Old Posts

As of earlier this week, I’ve opened up comments on all of my old posts. I’ve received some messages from people who were disappointed to find comments closed on posts that were shared more than 10 days ago. Originally, I’d set them to close after that amount of time to combat spam that was overwhelming my inbox.

The spam has been much more manageable this time, so let’s see if I can make this a permanent change. If your comment doesn’t show up right away, it probably got caught in my spam filter. I do my best to release those posts as soon as possible, but do feel free to nudge me if it’s been a few days and you don’t see anything yet.

Reader Questions

At the end of this month, I’ll be blogging about a question that a reader asked me in the comment section of a post recently. Her question was so big that it might take more than one post to fully respond to. Stay tuned for that post. It’s going to be a fun one.

I’d love to make this a recurring feature if or when other readers ask me questions, so fire away if you have any!

Book Blog Memes

From talking to other writers and bloggers, I get the impression that participating in weekly book blog memes like Top Ten Tuesday can be an excellent way to drive new traffic to your site.

I’m still looking into which ones would be best for me to participate in, and that list is one of several online that I’ll need to go through between now and January. Top Ten Tuesday is extremely popular, but I’m also curious to see if I can find something that’s specifically related to sci-fi/fantasy, mindfulness, or fitness. Whatever I pick, I will only be doing one or two of these a week at the most.

Suggestion Saturday

As much as I enjoy doing Suggestion Saturday posts, they are having less and less of an impact on drawing new visitors to this site with every passing month. They also require an investment of my time that I’m wondering might be better spent writing other types of posts.

I have not yet decided if I’ll keep doing this in 2019. I need more time to think about it.

Guest Posts from Others on This Site

Yes, I will continue to offer other bloggers the chance to write guest posts on this site if they contact me first. I’ve seen some bloggers become pushy on this topic, and that’s not something I’m comfortable doing at all. This is something I only want to do with people who are enthusiastic about it.

With that being said, I will be on the lookout for sites that list guest post opportunities to see if I can sign my site up for such a thing. It would be interesting to introduce you all to other bloggers who write about the same sorts of stuff I do.

Guest Posts from Me on Other Sites

If I find such a site, I may also be signing up as a guest blogger there. You all will receive links to any posts I write for other blogs, although I’ll have to come up with a creative way to do that if I put an end to Suggestion Saturday.

How Do You Attract New Traffic to Your Blog?

Please let me know in the comment section! I’d love to hear your tips.

Why Writers Should Pay Close Attention to the Insight’s Exploration of Mars

For anyone who hasn’t heard this news yet, NASA’s Insight spacecraft is scheduled to land on Mars today. If all goes well, it will dig sixteen feet down and soon begin transmitting data about this planet that no telescope can possible tell. Scientists hope to learn three things from this exploration:

  1. What material the core of Mars is composed of,
  2. What, if any, seismic activity might be happening on this planet and therefore whether the core is solid or liquid,
  3. The temperature of the core.

(Thank you to The Oatmeal for explaining these points in such humorous and vivid detail!)

Once we have the answers to these questions, scientists should able to figure out if Mars is still warm enough to have pockets of liquid water anywhere on it.

Here on Earth, liquid water is one of those things that is necessary in order for life as we know it to exist. If there are martian lakes, ponds, or rivers there that haven’t frozen over or evaporated yet, it’s possible that we could find organisms of some sort in those places.

I can’t tell you how many sci-fi books I’ve read about life being discovered on other planets, mostly on Mars. It’s a trope that the science fiction community has circled back around to over and over again for as long as this genre has existed.

Writing a post about why this mission is important for the sci-fi community would honestly be redundant. We know why we’re excited to see what this mission uncovers about what Mars was like in the past and how habitable it might still be in the present.

Obviously, this would be something that would quickly make it into the history books if or when it ever happens, but today I wanted to talk about why this possibility matters for all writers.

No matter what genre you’re writing in, I think you should pay close attention to how this story develops today and in the future for the following reasons:

  1. We need more books about characters who try over and over again. Not every Mars mission has been successful in the past. In fact, about half of them have failed. I can’t help but to imagine how all of the people who worked on those missions felt when they realized that a faulty piece of equipment, math error, or a technical glitch had prevented their machines from doing the job it was designed to do. To tie this back to writing in general, imagine how a small misstep that your character took or in the opening scene could have equally serious consequences for him or her down the road!
  2. Doing everything right is no guarantee you’ll win. I keep running into stories lately about characters who are triumphant in the end because they followed the rules. While I understand why this sort of plot is popular, I’d sure like to read more examples of characters who face hardships without the plot intending their setbacks to be a lesson for the audience. Sometimes bad things happen to good people -and characters – for reasons that have nothing to do with what they may or may not deserve.
  3. There is such a thing as multiple heroes. If, and hopefully when, we received word today that the Insight has safely landed on Mars and begun performing the tasks it was trained to do, there won’t be one specific person who can take credit for this success. There are dozens of people who worked on designing, building, and programming this machine. This doesn’t even take into account all of the other folks working behind the scenes to support this team as they made all of the necessary preparations to give the Insight the highest probability of success currently possible. The same can be said for many of the imaginary worlds that writers dream up. Very few parts of The Lord of the Rings would have turned out the same way if the only folks trying to bring the One Ring back to Mordor were a few small hobbits!
  4. History can change in an instant. Yes, sometimes things evolve so slowly that it takes years, or even multiple generations, for people to realize that what they were taught growing up is no longer correct. This isn’t always the case, though, and I think that this unfolding news story is an excellent example of how our understanding of science, biology, and cosmology might change in an instant.

I know I’ll be paying close attention to what sort of landing the Insight makes as well as the discoveries it will hopefully be sharing with NASA in the near future. Will you be keeping an eye on this story, too? I hope you will.

 

 

Is It a Good Idea to Take a Blogging Break?

No, this isn’t my way of saying that I’m taking a break from blogging. I’ve done it once or twice in the past for various reasons, but I have no current plans to ever do it again. (If that ever changes, I’ll take my own advice and let you all know in advance that I’m… Read More

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Avoid These Common Rookie Blogging Mistakes

  Common Mistakes Writers Make While Blogging Companies increasingly realize the value in blogging. It’s a simple way to create engaging content on your website, improve your SEO, and drive more traffic to your digital door. On the other hand, quality blogging is both an art form and a science. Your content must not only… Read More

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