Who are You?

Twitter have been working hard over the past few months to clean up their act: removing fake accounts, discounting locked accounts from follower numbers and all manner of tomfoolery is being employed in an attempt to make our timelines more representative of reality. Except all this work is largely pointless when you think all a robot is made up of is automated code and all anybody on a sock account wants to do is to spread hate speech. My feed is teeming with robots, and it is time to start weeding them out.

This account is typical of many that are quite possibly advertising a real person, but it is most certainly not them using their account in a fashion that would be considered as ‘normal.’ The Follower (singular) that we share is the biggest giveaway: an account with massive follower numbers that retweets only scheduled, curated content. These are not ‘people’ I could have a conversation with, but they provide the filler which increasingly is holding sections of Social media together.

Their output, almost exclusively, is retweets of other accounts that pick up hashtags and then send them onward. In this case, the #amwriting and #amediting snared me. I did honestly go back more than a week to try and find evidence of actual humanity but none was forthcoming, and a look at the followers? Nobody I had in common except that single account. They’re a MASSIVE red flag and I want nothing to do with them.

After a while it becomes really easy to separate the reality from an automaton. Even if Liam is a real person, he’s using robot software to like simultaneously, and that’s an instant turnoff. It’s like when I follow someone and they then immediately DM me a thank you which is clearly an automated response. If I can write and curate every tweet, so can you.

When the person who follows you tweets in another language, it should not be an obstacle to communication. I follow lots of people for whom English is not their tweeting language of choice, and it really is not an obstacle to understanding. Not reading my tweet and (again) only following that one account? Your language of choice is irrelevant. SHOO.

I can do this all day and night. Let’s see who blinks first.

Promenade

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‘Why do you write?’

Sometimes, it is compulsion: a injustice observed, moment recalled or future imagined. Often the urge strikes at an inopportune moment. It’s why a notepad and pencil have more significance than transcribing into the Cloud or dictating into an iPhone. Whilst fingers can grasp an implement, the default is always a pencil, making it easier to correct mistakes. There are many in those initial moments. Then there’s my keyboard, copy of an old style typewriter, to remind of the days that was the only option when creating formal work.

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‘What do you write about?’

Everything is up for debate, nothing beyond the remit. Once upon a time, for about thirty years, poetry was evil and impossible to fathom, but with patience and thought that fear is now overcome. I dealt with learning difficulties and social dysfunction via blogging, granting a freedom of expression that remains a constant joy to manipulate. It’s also a source of amusement to observe the interpretations of what gets written. Those loved the most in that regard grasp that writing, like most forms of expression, is supposed to offer at least some level of ambiguity unless you’re told otherwise…

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‘What does writing mean to you?’

Words are my salvation, and my Kryptonite.Β To be able to express myself is the greatest joy and freedom that has ever been granted in my half a century on the Planet. This is not about a massive follower count or critical acclaim, because neither of those will ever grant the same joy as a well-written story or the blog post that truly expresses my feelings. When those words fail me, inability to express what ails or distracts, it is as if I’ve been struck down. The incapability to write, once destroyed, brings relief that cannot ever be appreciated enough.

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‘What is your favourite writing form?’

Blogging (literally) saved my life when all other effective forms of communication had failed, so to admit a soft spot for just being able to write ‘today I woke up and felt happy’ probably ranks quite highly. However, the storytelling aspects of the craft are where the real satisfaction increasingly lies. There’s been an extension of that into photography too in the last couple of years, and that media degree in my twenties might yet have some actual use going forward.

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‘What advice would you get to start people writing?’

Routine and practice, as is the case in most pursuits, will garner real returns. However, for some people the ability to do this daily can end up stifling creativity, so the better path inevitably includesΒ finding a routine that suits your lifestyle. Write everything down. Planning in advance will help, especially if you’re writing a massive fantasy epic from scratch. The best advice of all however is be you, especially in blogging. An audience will invest in your life far more readily than you will realise, and the more that is given… that’s up to you. All of this, ultimately, is in your hands.

Blogging For Noobs :: Architecture and Morality

Blogging for Noobs

Once upon a time, I wrote something about someone in the white heat of extreme anger. This particular person had done something to me which, on reflection, I probably deserved. I’d been neither kind or understanding to them, and in fact I’d taken the piss out of not only how they’d acted, but how they chose to respond to me. Basically, it was the worst possible thing I could have written at that moment in time. Then, to make matters worse, if that was in fact possible at that point, I went ahead and posted it online where that person not only could see it, but respond if they chose. When did this happen, I hear you ask? 2001.Β This event took place sixteen years ago but I can remember it as if it was yesterday, because it resulted in a phone call to my home from someone I had never met.

When you write stuff on the Internet, you have to be prepared for the consequences.

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When I watch certain people on Twitter, it becomes apparent that they genuinely don’t grasp the gravity of what happens when you press ‘Tweet.’ Of course, there are some people for whom having a Worldwide audience is the drug they’ve craved for decades, and those individuals are normally pretty easy to spot. They’re the ones that don’t care who they hurt, what they say or indeed if the truth is present in any of their output. When you blog, especially if there’s a decision to target specific people or a particular events, not naming names is really the best idea you’ll ever have. Don’t make things personal, use ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, ensure that you can’t be considered as libellous… there are long lists of what morally should be considered for any work longer than 140 characters, written by people far more worthy than me.

In the past, I’ve unintentionally upset someone totally and completely by accident. I’ve conversely called out a troll who wouldn’t take ‘go away’ for an answer. I’ve reported numerous people for abuse and I have a blacklist on all of my blogs, because sometimes you won’t upset people by accident but by the simple expedient of disagreeing with them. Doing that with conviction, and having the confidence to defend any viewpoint, is probably more dangerous than having a swipe at your best mate for standing you up last week or poking fun at the bloke who served you take-out when you were pissed. As a rule, there are those on the Internet who will never take kindly to you not agreeing with them. If that is upsetting, writing blogs is probably not for you.

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I have been told, too many times now to remember, that my ‘rude and dismissive’ attitude is why people don’t like me. Many bloggers might be here to try and win popularity contests, but my personal work is the way it is for a very good reason. When I launch the Internet of Words project in June, that will have a completely differing tone and style, and it may become necessary to set up a separate site to accommodate that as time goes on. I’m well aware of how to write for separate and distinct audiences, and that those who have gotten upset at my words get upset by lots of other things too that are nothing at all to do with me to begin with. You will not please everybody, it is a physical impossibility. However as a blogger you have a moral duty not simply to your audience, but more importantly to yourself.

Your words, like it or not, are ‘out here’ pretty much in perpetuity. You might think you can delete posts, but you really can’t. All this stuff has been recorded somewhere, and the more contentious your subject matter is, the bigger the potential to never take it back. So, this week’s advice is simple and succinct: don’t write anything you’re not prepared to stand by a year, a week, a decade from now. When you write, make every word matter, but always be mindful that even though you’re doing this for yourself, that’s not the only audience who’ll potentially consume it. For every rant made in the heat of anger there is always a consequence, as is the case with everything you will ever write. If that’s something you’re not prepared to stomach, then it’s time to stop writing.

If you can cope with that responsibility? It all gets better from now on.

Blogging For Noobs :: Find Time

Blogging for Noobs

This post was due some time ago, and the irony that Part 4 of the 10 Stage Guide to Blogging is all about scheduling is not lost on me. You see, there are times in your life when things inevitably go wrong, and even the best organised of us fall foul of ‘the curse of Real Life.’Β It is that moment when you’re simply too busy to plan or write the content you need, and your blog becomes a cultural and content wasteland.

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For me its been a curious mix of reality and a change in personal focus that’s caused the issues, but I’m addressing them by scheduling this post back in time to where it should be in the chronology: that means this post was written on May 8th, but gets published back on April 28th to remain in the continuity. You see, unless you publicise every post on the day, many people will come to your work long after the fact, and for them it doesn’t really matter that stuff is not in order, rather that you finished the Guide in the first place. This is the real beauty of organisation: nobody is telling you there needs to be content daily but if you want that, it is perfectly possible using scheduling and just one evening a week.

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The key to cracking this process is, for me, twofold. First off, you need to make the time. That means a couple of hours tonight to catch up, and tomorrow having provisioned the morning to write three posts and then schedule them for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. That expects you to be able to bring the goods as well: for me, scheduling to do all of one kind of post is the best way. I’m now writing five days of poetry (haiku and micro versions) in one block and scheduling that to Twitter, for instance, and knowing you have a target to hit allows my brain to expand to ‘fit’ the target time available.

Then you have to decide how often you want to post and how that happens. Both Blogger and WordPress have the scheduling function: just make sure the blog is set to your current timezone before you start. Twitter allows you to schedule posts using Tweetdeck too, outside of the remit of the first post, if you want to sell a particular post over an entire day. However, if you want total control a programme like Hootsuite (which works on your phone and tablet too) gives you a lot more flexibility. I pay $10 a month for this, and it’s some of the best cash I’ve spent to get everything working when I need to be doing other stuff.

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What scheduling gives a blogger is the ability to extend beyond the moment, if they choose to do so. Then it is about making the time, doing back end work, and being prepared to stick in the hours. With a couple of focussed bursts, you can transform a couple of evening’s work look like a weeks, or in my case balance work and pleasure and write about them both.

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The biggest single obstacle to getting this whole thing to work is time. I have an A5 Moleskine that runs from July 16 to February 17 before the pages simply got too small for everything and I had to go up a size. Before that I filled a year and a bit with notes and plans. I’m still not good at this, but every day it improves, which is the best I can hope for. Eventually, perhaps I’ll have people writing for me… who knows, but I’ll still use this system to plan my life because it’s more tangible than an online equivalent and it means I still write everyday in longhand.

In summary therefore, it really doesn’t matter what you write. What matters more:

  • You write something at least once a week to begin with
  • If you can do one post in an evening, try two a week, and then three… and so on
  • If you can write more than one post in a night, great, but DON’T POST THEM ALL AT ONCE. Learn to use the time you have effectively. Three posts in a night is a week’s worth of blogging (Mon, Wed, Sat)
  • You do this every week for a month, or you write three times a week, or every day at 8am… and you establish a routine that works. Once you have a routine, it will be easier
  • Learn to plan posts beforehand
  • Learn how to go back and fill in gaps using scheduling too
  • JUST LEARN, AT YOUR OWN PACE

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The key this week is to just write, and use your time in the most effective way possible. I’m not going to tell you what to write, quite obviously, but next week’s post (or in my case the one I’ll write straight after this and send back to the past) will remind you that when you do write, there are some things you ought to consider when doing so. Amazingly, in the Wild West of Social media, there are some responsibilities that come with blogging: ignore them at your peril because if you want to be a success, you will have a day when your words return to eat you alive.

For now though, start that weekly process of routine. It will be utterly worth it.

Blogging For Noobs :: Look Up

Blogging for NoobsPart Three of our Ten Point Blogging Guide deals with presentation, and the fact that it matters just as much about HOW you offer readers content as the words themselves. You would think by now that people grasp how important it is for your webpage to be legible, especially when you consider how many people now read on a screen the size of a tea mug. This is something to really keep in mind as a blogger, a fact that newspapers and publications continue to just not grasp. I don’t care how many bells and whistles you think need to be included on your Webpage, if the text is illegible or there’s too many images to load, you’re out of luck.

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The problem, of course, is that the Snapchat generation is used to a level of mobile presentation that any smaller blogger will struggle to either emulate or repeat. In these cases you’re stuck with making your words matter, and doing all the fancy stuff to sell them. That means your first point of business after establishing a Blog needs to be the means by which you sell that: we’ll talk about the Social media ‘dance’ in more detail in a few weeks, but for now you should be considering at least some of the following:

  • Twitter account in the same name as your Blog
  • Facebook page (see above)
  • Instagram Page (you get the idea by now)
  • Snapchat account

… and the list goes on, especially if you’re working in a niche market that might benefit from (lets say) a Pinterest account. You want to do this now, early on, so that as you prepare for the new wave of interest in your work, everybody gets to see what you’re writing straight away. You’ll also be amazed at how tolerant people will be of a fairly simplistic website if it a) doesn’t crash their phone and b) doesn’t cost them a fortune in download charges. If you want to be fancy with presentation, concentrate on separate platforms that promote that and keep your blog clean, simple and most importantly easy to read.

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Next up (and this will matter if things really take off) is how you format posts. One long, huge wall of text will switch people off. You can write thousands of words, sure, but if you do, break them up into small, easily-manageable chunks. Use pictures or line breaks whenever possible: you don’t need to be clever with the GIFs and the fancy graphics, but if you know that’s what your audience likes, then go right ahead. Most importantly of all, please make sure your spelling and grammar are up to standard, because there’ll be some bright spark out there ready to abuse you for being illiterate if you don’t.

Most blogging tools (like WordPress I’m using now) have a spell check service, as do most browsers. There really is no excuse for mucking it up, but if English is not your first language you can go right ahead and write in the format you feel most comfortable using, and let Google Translate do the rest (if you use Chrome as a browser.) I read a number of French language gaming blogs in this way with no issues at all. The reminder here is to pick the form of words you feel most comfortable using, and allow that format to guide your actions. It’s a global marketplace after all, something many American and English bloggers often conveniently choose to forget.

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In the end, what matters just as much as the words you write is the way they’re subsequently presented. Both Blogger and WordPress have the ability to preview sites so you’ll see how they look on both tablets and phones, and the best thing you can ever do long term for your reach is ensure that the Web is the last place you check is looking fine before you commit to a layout. We’ll go back and work out your Social media policy in a few weeks, but for now I want to get you in the habit of making the most of all this hard work you’ve now put into presentation. That means, yet again, pulling out a pencil and paper or a spreadsheet and starting to foster a regular routine of posting.

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On the window to my left is stuck this schedule, and every week at this time I’ll sit down and plan the upcoming week’s work. Next time I’ll ask you to consider when you’d like your content to be posted, and how you go about building a consistent schedule to ensure that is what happens. For now, go ahead and keep fiddling with that web template but remember to ask someone else if they can read it as well as you can, or if it works in low light or on an older iPhone.

This stuff matters far more than you realise for establishing an audience.

Blogging For Noobs :: Think

You have a ton of posts all ready to go after the last portion of our Guide, and now you want to publish them all in one hit. This is where I put up the single finger in a kind yet firm manner and say NO, do not do this with your work. The temptation in the early blush of creativity is to share everything immediately. This is perfectly normal and I see it happen all the time: the problem then comes a month later when you’re struggling for stuff to fill your space and creativity appears to have evaporated. That’s why this time around, I’m going to ask you to wait, and start planning ahead. Remember that blank calender I left you with last time? Here’s where the fun of Learning to Organise begins.

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I’m going to be rebranding this site next month as the Internet of Words (for those of you paying attention) and that means that I need to do a couple of things before that happens. Once I’ve followed my own previous step and worked out what will qualify as content, I’ll need a week to make sure that I have graphics for everything made and ready, and there are spaces in the web design to accommodate what I’m doing. That’s the 14th to the 19th for me, which is my Pre-Planning and ‘Back End’ phase. In that time I can also write posts in anticipation of my launch (June 1st) but not publish them until I know my redesign is working properly. In your case, it could just be getting yourself comfortable with blogging to begin with, and you have a week of playing with layout and posting until you’re comfortable with both.

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I’ve then scheduled a Testing Week, which will basically act as my migration period for all the old content, deleting the stuff I don’t want to keep, and getting everything ready to roll. As you can see, after my launch date I’ve got a load of +1 and +2’s marked: the latter indicate days when I’ll introduce a facet of the site, the others marking down that for the first month, I want to generate a post a day. To do that will require me to organise in advance, to have ideas ready to roll, and once I obtain that early impetus it will be important to ensure I have a plan. That’s why I’m writing on Post It notes, scribbling in a notebook wherever possible, and keeping track of things I think are important or interesting going forward. It is why this weekend will be devoted to thrashing out many of those scribbled notes into fully-formed topics to form part of my site.

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The key, of course, is to have a lot of content to go, but there are days when I undoubtedly do my best work from a cold start. Today was a case in point: I didn’t expect to create a logo or start a Twitter account for the redesign but both of those happened. I’d simply planned to day to explore the possibilities of both, but you’ll learn in time how inspiration strikes, and when to make the most of it. This is where organisation truly becomes invaluable, because in those creative-rich days, if you can get words down they can be kept and scheduled for days when you’re out of ideas. It also means you are never totally beholden to your site either, and can take holidays or time off without it appearing you lost interest in the project.

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You will find, as time goes on, that if you set aside a set time each day to write, this will also aid enormously with productivity and creativity. For me, I do my best work on non-fiction before lunchtime, whilst fiction always works better in the evening. That means I’ll be able to balance my time effectively around other stuff and still aim for a set result at the end of each week. You may wish to plan ahead on a spreadsheet programme, and there are plenty of time management tools/apps that can help you out, but for me I am at my best with a Moleskine Diary, pen, pencil and ruler. In fact I’d be utterly lost without them now. My planning for the week is either done Sunday night or Monday morning, and this dictates the entire workflow for the next seven days. Find the system that works for you, and don’t be afraid to mix and match until you’re comfortable with the result.

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The biggest trick however is not to panic when you’re out of ideas. That’s why you have a notebook, its why you plan in advance… and its where Social media can save the day. Current events, personal interests, what other people are talking about, the latest complaint/beef in your friends circle… all of these are potential topics to start a blog post. For me, I have a ton of projects in various states of completion to consider, a vast array of topics on the Internet of Words that all have a potential place in my planning: but the trick is not to obsess too much about all the possibilities. I’ll be picking a couple of the best ideas to work with at the start, and we’ll go from there. Once the framework is established and has run for a while, I can look at analytics to see where the interest lies, and work from there.

Organisation really is everything if you want a professional looking site. It also doesn’t all have to happen straight away. Just because I’ll be doing a post a day means it will stay that way. We’ll see how things work, and the trick in these early stages is to listen to other people very carefully. Many will give you feedback, and if it isn’t great, you’ll need to be ready to act accordingly. Next time, we’ll talk about how you keep people interested whilst they read, because that will matter long term just as much as your content.

Blogging for Noobs :: I Love You

It is time, finally, to write stuff. Are you excited?

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Number one in our Ten Things to Learn guide is, I’m afraid, NOT how to write gud. That I can try and help you with but, to be honest, you are mostly on your own. If you’ve reached this stage anyway the desire to write already very much exists (which remains half the battle on any given day) but developing a strong, individual style takes both time and effort to perfect. If, like me, you write for other people, their style will vary greatly from your own. That’s why learning to be your own Editor is great practice for when you end up having to deal with somebody else critiquing your work. There are however, certain things you really shouldn’t do, and it seems only fair to provide a list of those:

  • Take the first person out of your work. I did this and I did that is perfectly acceptable, in certain circumstances. The first person pronoun makes for a deeply personal insight, but often not for great writing. I’m going to use myself as an example of this: I think this post would be far better re-written without the excessive use of ‘I’ within it. The content’s sound, but the execution needs work. Using ‘we’ is a better idea for a lot of reasons, and it will make your whole blog resonate better with people you do not know.
  • Use a spell checker. Most blog interfaces provide one as standard anyway. Try to avoid abbreviations or excessive use of jargon/abbreviated speech. Imagine you’re talking to whoever you know personally who doesn’t have a clue about all this stuff and make it so they’d understand what’s going on. If you want people to notice your work, it isn’t just about what you write, but as much about how it is presented. 

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  • Don’t make it personal. There’s going to be a whole week on this, because there’s been some notable legal events in the last couple of months that prove if you are libellous or slanderous to people, there are consequences. I’ve notably used a blog post to stop someone stalking me, but I can attest this is not to be recommended, especially not in the current climate. If you can’t keep it civil and pleasant, don’t write it. Go shout at people on Twitter instead… no, don’t do that either. Just be nice.
  • Explain yourself properly. The point of good blogging, at least for me, is making one point per post. After that you’ll find the retention rate of your audience tends to drop dramatically. Sure, you can make long complex arguments in blog posts, but the best work is when you set yourself a question to answer in X words, or you show your reasoning for something in Y words. Don’t waffle. Learn to work out what is useful in a sentence, and what’s just repeating the same point again.typing3.gif
  • Formatting is everything. If I had a business WordPress, which may well happen by the end of the year, SEO is a thing. If you have no idea what that means, here’s a guide Google made explaining how Search Engine Optimisation works. That, coupled with using formatting for improved readability (which the business version of WordPress will also offer as an option) gives you a better chance that people stay with your article and read until the end. For now? Don’t write massive blocks of dense text. Split it up, and stick pictures in between.

Having said all of that, I told you that ideas matter a great deal, and they do. A combination of information, entertainment and inspiration seems to be why people keep coming back to what I do. There’s stuff on daily events, things that matter to those playing the same games as me, and who maintain a comparable set of interests. I use the GIF as art, whenever possible, as a cheap laugh or to reinforce a bigger point. The fact I’m attempting self improvement via exercise, and that I suffer with mental health issues that I’m happy to discuss and dissect all form part of a complex landscape, that has become an online extension of my real-life self. I’m not expecting you to do all this when all you want is to help people play a game better or share your art. However, there should be a distinct part of you in every word you write. The passion is what matters most.

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The enthusiasm and passion is what keeps the desire to write moving forward, even on the days when you seemingly have nothing to offer. For me, I’ve found a way to counter my lack of enthusiasm by creating a series of weekly ‘topics’: a banner headline under which I can write about an aspect of the general subject matter. That means, that once a week (unless a more important topic supplants it) I’m writing about my time in Warcraft, chronologically, from beginning to the present day. I have the headline, under which I’ve planned several months worth of potential subjects. What this gives me is a chance to both think ahead and know I have work to do even if the game is not particularly active and I don’t have a lot to say. This is a great way to keep your enthusiasm for work moving forward, by planning a larger subject to break down in parts. In fact, this Guide itself is being written on the exact same principle: weekly parts that will form an overall whole.

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The other way that blogging is incredibly effective is if you have something in your life that you can react to/talk about. That trip to the end of the Earth, your battle with cancer, the problems starting a business, becoming a successful writer… all these things are subject matters someone will want to read about. It might be something that happened to you in childhood, or perhaps your attempts to find meaning in an increasingly complex world. If you have the time to talk to someone, you could write it down. If you find yourself spending more than three tweets in a day ranting about anything on line? That’s blog material, right there.

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Blogs can do many things, the only limit being your imagination. If you have ideas, the best thing you will ever do is not just jump in without giving them form and focus. In fact, planning may sound utterly pointless but it is more likely to keep you from just giving up and not bothering. It is, for me, the very foundation of effective blogging. You have the passion to write, and all the ideas required to do so and now it is time to give yourself a framework on which to hang them. In that notepad that you’ve been using for recalling inspiration, you now need a planner on which they can be placed

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Feel free to copy this and print it out on a sheet of A5/A4 or whatever size your notebook is. This is your first month of blogging. The launch date for your blog isn’t top left either: next week, using April 1st as our start point, I’ll show you how to prepare and plan a Blog launch in advance: from scheduling posts to engaging an audience before a word is even written. I hope, by suggesting this as a way forward, I’ll be able to keep enthusiasm going well past that first four weeks, and help you create and form good habits for years to come.