Copywriter, Journalist, and Content Coach


Know What You’re Thinking

Take notes on all your ideas, whenever they crop up. Get them onto lists, memos, index cards, whatever, in any random order. Just get them down. Anything’s better than staring at a blank piece of paper thinking, “Oh, crap. Now what?”

Organize Your Notes into Stacks

Go through your notes when you’ve think you have enough ideas, and start sorting them out. (I like to use index cards for this, because you can spread them out on a big table and actually see the connections as you shuffle them around.) You’ll start to see overarching themes, categories, and supporting material. The themes are the general drift of your content—they’re like titles for blogs: DOGS. The categories are your articles: BODY LANGUAGE, NUTRITION, GROOMING, TRAINING. The supporting materials prove your points or supply examples within your articles.

Start with making a stack for each theme. Make a separate stack for each category within its theme. Then start to compare stacks among categories and themes. See if a supporting statement would work better in another stack, or if two stacks can be condensed into one, or if one should be divided into two. This is where you’ll figure out gaps in your logic, missing information, and repetition.

Create Logical Sequences within Your Stacks

Lay out your themes, categories, and supporting content. At each level, see what readers need to know first, second third, and so on—like a critical path in a production schedule. The easiest sequence (for you and your reader) is chronological. The most challenging is logical: if/then reasoning. The basic structure is to move from overview to supporting detail to conclusion to recapitulation (see next item) and end with a call to action or benefit statement (“if you do this, you’ll get rich!”).

Write an Outline

This step is most important for long pieces, but it applies to short ones as well.
Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. So, set out your stacks, and use them to write a traditional outline. This exercise will help you catch logical discontinuities, or missing information (again). Have someone read it and see if they get the picture. Note where they get confused, and plan to simplify your explanation or add more supporting material.

Plan for the Future

Many people start blogs, and soon find that they’ve run out of ideas. They may have tried to tell their whole story right away. This is a mistake. The stack for for each idea and its supporting details can be separate articles, essays or blogs. As you write them, you’ll get more ideas, which may also be entire articles. When this happens, end the preceding article with “I’ll have more to say about this in a future post,” “I’ll enlarge on this idea in an upcoming essay,” or some such line.