Be a Better Blogger: Four Questions That Will Help You Get There
Few weeks ago I supported Urška Miklič from the CEF in running a webinar on “reflective blogging”. It turned out to be a really interesting and useful thing to do, as it got me thinking about blogging as a form of reflection. I’m an occasional blogger but no expert. My interests are mainly in reflection and reflective practice especially for developing leaders at all levels.
Writing, especially journaling is a key part of the reflective practice toolkit, and I often make passing reference to blogging as another form of writing and therefore a great opportunity to capture and share reflections on past events and experiences – a bit like journaling but with the intention of sharing and being read by others.
Preparing for the webinar and then articulating my own experiences of blogging in the live session helped shape and sharpen my thinking about blogging. I focused on it in a different way. It was no longer a passing issue just to mention but the main topic of interest to an audience of around 30 people! I had to look at reflection through the specific lens of blogging and perhaps not surprisingly some new insights emerged for me.
As I thought about blogging and read around Twitter, LinkedIn and a variety of websites, it struck me that I could organise my own thinking and the things I wanted to say in the webinar around four questions everyone should ask themselves if they intend to write a blog: Why? Who? What? How?
Why do you want to blog?
I reflected on my own motives for blogging, which I hadn’t really made explicit to myself previously. I think I began blogging because colleagues at Taylor Clarke were keen that we improve our business profile by being more visible on social media. I must admit I didn’t find that very motivating but under some mild pressure managed to get a couple of blogs on Reflective Practice for Leaders completed and published. What I discovered was that the process was really satisfying.
It helped me to organise my thinking and really sharpened what it was I wanted to say about reflective practice. It helped simplify what I was trying to say and made it punchier and to the point – something that real enthusiasts like me sometimes find hard to do. I realised I really enjoyed sharing my passion, knowledge and expertise, and it soon became apparent that by doing so I got feedback and others shared things back to me. So it was also great for getting new ideas and checking out whether I was on the right track. I’ve also started to find and build a small community of people who are interested in reflective practice and evidence based approaches to leadership development.
Who‘s your audience?
Who are you writing for? Preparing for the webinar has forced me to think more clearly about who I’ve been writing for. In the blogs I was addressing ‘leaders’ but implicitly was also speaking to HR/OD professionals who commission and design leadership development programmes. To be honest, it was always a bit vague or shifted from blog to blog. There’s a similar, if slightly hidden, issue for people who journal.
Often journalers just begin writing without thinking at all about who their audience might be. This is because there isn’t really an audience for a journal – most likely the only reader will be the writer! However, it turns out that if you bring to mind different people to be the notional reader of a journal entry, then it can change the perspective a lot. The tone changes and new insights emerge from having to explain things in a different way, for example by making things more explicit or including details that might otherwise be taken for granted. Just imagine for a moment writing your reflections about an important event for a professional colleague, for your boss or for a respected mentor or role model, for a parent, for one of your children, or for a good friend. How might they differ? So have an audience in mind – and the more specific the better.
What are you blogging about?
One of the most important lessons from my own experience and key advice from the blogging experts is to focus. Try to work out your niche. Become known for your thinking in that area. Stick with it and don’t worry about covering similar ideas over and over. You may think that you’ll just be repeating the same ideas but every time you write, something new will emerge.
In my case, I’ve tried to stick closely to writing about reflective practice for leaders. Not leadership generally, not reflective practice for teachers or students, or doctors. Just for leaders. And sure enough, when I worry about being repetitive and boring, I block myself from writing. If I just take an old topic and start again, then something new always seems to emerge. So the lesson is focus and repeat!
I came across an interesting idea that writers do only two things. They either take a complex idea and simplify it through stories, examples and reframing, or they take a simple idea and elaborate it through stories, examples and reframing. This feels like an over-simplification, of course, but it’s a useful point to think about as you prepare to write. Which of these are you doing in your blog?
It’s also useful to think about what type of blog post, within your niche, you might be creating. For example, it could be one of the following:
- A thought leadership post setting out a new idea and connecting some old ideas or research to create new insights; the key to making this interesting is to think about your own point of view on the issue.
- A “how to” post solving a problem for readers; this could be a problem you have faced in your work with your experience of tackling it.
- A curated collection of good examples and best practices.
- A list-based post that might briefly cover “10 ways to…” or “15 mistakes to avoid…”.
How are you going about it?
Beginning to write is often the hurdle that I stumble at. I’ll carry a great idea around for days and not do anything about it. So how to start filling the blank page? I’ve come to the conclusion that at least for me, it’s harder to start if I don’t have in mind answers to the three previous questions: why am I doing this? Who is it for? And what do I want to write about specifically? Bringing those questions back to mind helps.
Perhaps the most common piece of advice I see about reflective writing, journaling and blogging is just to start – start now and start small! Style isn’t important. Use your own words and don’t overthink – be natural. Write often and make it a habit. For people who want to journal but find it hard to find time to get going, I often advise just writing for 5 minutes about an event or issue. Some of us are blocked by the thought that reflective writing needs lots of time for contemplation and deep thought, and there never seems to be a right moment. That may be true sometimes but mostly it’s useful just to capture immediate descriptions and reactions. Reviewing a series of short notes on a topic or event/experience will almost always generate connections and insights. And if you’re blogging for an audience rather than journaling for yourself, the key advice is to publish a lot! Keep trying and listening for feedback.
Even so, writing can be hard and the other useful idea I’ve used is to “prep the page”. This immediately makes the writing less intimidating.
The basic process goes like this: • Name the document • Start with a working title, e.g. “Three things I’ve learned about reflective writing from designing this webinar” • Introduction: introduce the issue and write a first sentence. If it’s a blog or intended to be read by others: What’s this piece about? Who is it for? What will you gain by reading it? The context, the issues, who’s involved, what happened? • Outline your subheads • Learning 1 • Learning 2 • Learning 3 • End with a conclusion, e.g. What could you do next?
Filling in this skeleton is a lot easier than just starting with the blank page!
Finally, in thinking about how to go about it, there are undoubtedly enormous benefits from having a reflection partner to bounce ideas off. Someone who can challenge your ideas and hold you gently to account for finishing the work. In my case, I was lucky to be working alongside Urška Miklič. Having to explain things to her and reacting to her great ideas and experience of blogging forced me to articulate my own ideas more clearly.
In conclusion Reflecting on the experience of the CEF webinar on reflective blogging has given me a four-question framework for organising a lot of disparate knowledge and experience about reflective writing. I’m sure none of these insights are completely novel. As I said, I’m not an expert in blogging. But for me they were a meaningful blend of my own experience, the expertise of others (especially Urška) and widely shared best practices. And all the more impactful for that.