Start with a plan What separates serious bloggers from those who do it for a hobby? One key point is planning. Serious bloggers don’t (just) write on the fly. They also plan ahead.

Planning ahead gives you a stock of ideas, either to tackle immediately and to let drip over time. It’s also a good way to have a bunch of ideas handy for those times when the creative well temporarily runs dry.

Planning content for your blog isn’t difficult. I do it once every quarter or so and wind up with more than enough posts to fill my publishing schedule.

Let’s take a look at how I go about planning content for a blog.

Getting going

To be honest, I don’t like applying the word plan to what I do. That makes it seem like I’m actually organized. What I’m creating is more of a rough schedule.

The first step to doing that is to come up with a list of ideas. I usually have a bunch, stored either in Simplenote or written down in a notebook. But they’re usually not enough for a quarter’s worth of posts.

So, I come up with several themes. These are categories for blog posts. The themes I commonly use are:

  • Writing
  • Blogging
  • Ebooks
  • Tools
  • Techniques
  • Opinion

Often, there’s some overlap between themes.

From there, I take a sheet of paper and write the names of the themes as column headers. Then I write the proposed titles for the ideas I already have in those columns.

Filling in the blanks

As I mentioned earlier, the number of ideas that I have lying around usually doesn’t translate into three months worth of posts. So I sit down and brainstorm.

I do that in a couple of ways. I either sit down with pen and paper, and write what ideas come into my head or I create a mind map.

In either case, I can come up with at least 20 ideas in the space of an hour. Usually, in a shorter amount of time. When the ideas won’t come that quickly, I spread this exercise over a day or two. That way, I can generate more than enough ideas.

Cull, cull!

Let’s face it: not all of the ideas that spill out of your brain will be good. Or even usable. That will include many on your list.

After coming up with my ideas, I leave them alone for a few hours. Or even until the next day. Then I go back to them, look at each idea with a harsh and critical eye and then start culling.

Sometimes, it’s very obvious which ideas are a dead end. At other times, it takes a bit of thought to figure that out. But when I cut, I use a chainsaw not a scalpel.

You might also notice that some of your ideas overlap with others. That could be the opportunity for you to either combine the ideas or use them as the basis for a blog post series.

Creating the schedule

As I mentioned in a previous post, I write ahead. Weeks, usually months in advance. Once I have enough ideas for a quarter, I schedule them.

There’s nothing fancy about what I do. I group my ideas in a tool called Workflowy. From there, I shuffle them around — I don’t like having too many posts on a similar theme published in the same week. Then, I assign them publication dates.

Here’s a sample of what a portion of one of my blogging topic lists looks like in Workflowy:

A list of ideas

Is that it?

Definitely not. Having the ideas is one thing. Turning them into posts is the goal. To do that, you need to be in front of the keyboard and typing.

You’ll need to set aside time to write the posts. I make sure that I have time scheduled each weeknight for writing blog posts using another of my favourite web-based tools, this one called Daystack.

Tasks in Daystack

Remember what I wrote about culling your ideas? Culling doesn’t always happen immediately. I’ve been known to abandon blog posts after I’ve scheduled them or even started writing them. Sometimes, that means scrambling for an idea or three. But I always have that possibility in the back of my mind, so it’s not a huge problem. And if I’ve done my job right, I have a few extra ideas in my pocket.

Final thoughts

Taking the time to plan content for your blog is a great exercise. It helps you focus the topics for your blog, and gives you a backlog of ideas. It also helps you learn the discipline of writing.

Photo credit: kahanaboy