Keeping up a with a prolific output of valuable content is difficult. Even if you have a team allocated solely to creating content, the process can be laborious and, unlike data entry, sales, or math, writing means the occasional bout of writer’s block (the enemy!!), threatening to grind the whole system to a halt.
Round 1: ‘Tis but a scratch!
Writer’s block can feel like Monty Python’s King Arthur fighting the Black Knight whereas a severed limb feels at first like a mere flesh wound. There are a zillion tips online that deal with writer’s block, from mental tips on shaking the fog from your mind, to physical tips on sitting ergonomically, to emotional tips on reminding yourself that you are not, in fact, a worthless writer. These are all helpful and usually funny; but I think the best weapon against writer’s block is something simpler: Planning in advance!
Round 2: It’s just a flesh wound!
Full disclosure: I’m a bit of an organization nut. The mere knowledge that I have lists and plans and outlines in place lowers my blood pressure immediately and considerably. If I have an article due in a week and I know in advance the topic, the parameters, and the expectations for research, it’s much easier to begin writing. If I’m asked to write “something, anything,” I could stare at that blinking cursor on the blank white page until the walls close in and I begin to think I’ve forgotten English. Sometimes the problem is lack of ideas, but I think more often than not the problem is too many ideas. I want to write about A, B, C, D, and E, but there is far too much information, and finding a cohesive way to seamlessly put it all together feels not unlike attempting to reassemble the paper scraps pulled from an industrial shredder. It’s daunting. And there’s not enough tape. Help!
Round 3: Look! You’ve got no arms left!
An editorial calendar tracks the dates and topics about which you’ll write. The level of detail will vary for everyone – a blog for personal use can be scheduled out further and with more detail than a company blog, as the ability to be flexible on the fly is generally more difficult in a corporate structure.
Some editorial calendars contain more than just a content schedule; some include social media planning as well. This is recommended more for individuals or smaller businesses – imagine a company like Coca-Cola putting its content schedule and every social media move into one calendar. It would be far more confusing than it would be worth.
Round 4: What are you gonna do, bleed on me?
Most of us use a spreadsheet of some kind – Excel, Google Drive Spreadsheets, iWork Numbers, etc. A calendar set-up will work best, with enough space on each day to fit the goals.
I have seen editorial calendars made in word processing programs like Microsoft Word; while this can work for individuals or small businesses with little content, I would not recommend it for producers that are more prolific. Before you say, “But Heather, I’m a writer! Excel is against my nature! Cell functions, VBA, formulas…I just want to type words!”: Believe me, you’re preaching to the choir. Spreadsheets can be daunting with all their “magic,” but I can say with certainty that it was worth it to get past my fear of the graph and master simple data entry. Color-coded.
(Shout out here to Excel For Dummies – yes, I’m admitting that I purchased a “For Dummies” book addressing a software program that half the country uses on a regular basis. Sigh. I could quote you Shakespeare, wax philosophic – or not – about digital marketing, write you a term paper, tell you in great detail how the Vikings lost their last two shots at the Super Bowl…but numbers? Eh.)
Below is an screenshot of the format I use for the DigitalPartner blog and social media accounts. Easily organized, color-coded, and retaining flexibility. And the only numbers I had to deal with were the dates.
Naturally, the same format won’t work for everyone, but a quick search for “editorial calendar” will give you a plethora of examples and templates and will allow you to make the right decision for your blog. I highly recommend Content Marketing Institute, Search Engine Watch, and Marketing Land (who recently posted about readying your ed calendar for 2013, so if you’re just starting, it’s perfect timing).
Round 5: You are indeed brave, Sir Knight, but the fight is mine!
Remember to give yourself the flexibility to allow for unforeseen circumstances: business changes, product launches, product failures (eek!), natural disasters (Sandy closed down our NY offices for a week, so this one feels especially pertinent right now), illness, receiving word you’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize, the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, an impromptu fight with a killer bunny in a cave, etc.
If you schedule out your calendar to a time so far in the future you that need a DeLorean to get to the end of it, and then something, anything, comes up…well, you’ve taken your original writer’s block problem and made it approximately 1,000 times worse. Now, you not only have an overload of content but you’re also falling behind! Deadlines are missed! Trichotillomania sets in! Xanex is procured! Breathing exercises are adopted! Sleep is lost! General discombobulation reigns as you panic over which of your two options are worse:
- Starting from the present (“Today”) on your editorial calendar, opting not to produce and publish the content for the days you’ve missed. Which almost certainly throws a wrench in the continuity of your branding and message….
- Working night and day to catch up. Which almost certainly means annoying your brand fans by bombarding them with quickly produced content shared machine gun-style, flooding their RSS feeds and inboxes, burning up your Facebook page, and approaching “I’m an F18, bro” levels with your social media.
Unfortunately, both choices mean you’ve interrupted your consistency, you’ve muddled the expectations you set for your readers, and your trust quotient has dipped just a tad. It’s nothing you can’t recover from, but it’s also something you can avoid. So be flexibly consistent and plan ahead.
But not so far ahead that you have to send your team out on coconuts to procure some plutonium if something comes up.