Have you ever heard of white room syndrome?
I hadn’t until I tried writing a science fiction story.
The story sucked. Pretty much every scene started the same way – with a character waking up in a white room.
I had white room syndrome, and I had it bad.
White room syndrome happens to sci fi writers because they start off their writing day staring at a blank, white screen. Through their subconscious, the white screen sneaks its way into their writing.
How much of your life have you spent starting at a blank page? Content creators, writers, bloggers, podcasters – we’ve all felt the anxiety of not knowing what to write. And unlike sci fi writers, we don’t have the luxury of being able to tell a story about a white room.
How can you overcome blank page agony?
The answer is to get your ideas on paper before your start writing. When you sit down knowing what you’ve got to write about, it becomes way easier to get started.
That’s why an editorial calendar is so darn useful.
Simply put, an editorial calendar is a list of what you’ll publish, and when.
You plan out your content months, or even a full year, in advance. Your calendar can include topics, headlines, or full outlines. Whichever you choose, every time you sit down to write, you fire up the engine and drive. No idling. No stalling. Just word after word after word.
This works for a couple of reasons. First, by creating an intention to write the articles in your editorial calendar, you’ll be more motivated to write. Second, when you sit down to write, your creativity will have something to work with. Creativity abhors a vacuum. It needs raw materials and ideas to fashion into something worthwhile and of substance.
Not only does your editorial calendar make it easier for you to write. It also means:
- You’ll write better content that’s focused on the wants and needs of your audience.
- You can match up your articles to what’s going on in the world. For example, you can put out Christmas articles over the festive season.
- You can plan serialized content to keep your readers engaged.
- You know your blog is planned out in advance, so you stop wasting time and energy worrying about it.
Here’s what it takes to create an editorial calendar.
Step 1: Create Your Calendar
There are a ton of different ways you can create an editorial calendar. You can:
- Write it on a scrap of paper.
- Plan it out on your computer’s calendar (or on Google Calendar).
- Use the WordPress Editorial Calendar Plugin.
As long as you’ve got a list of headlines, and due dates for when you plan to publish them, it’s an editorial calendar.
Here at Social Caffeine, our editorial calendar is a word document of headlines and publish dates. Each time we sit down to write, we load up the document, find the next headline, and write.
We’ve heard on the grapevine that Darren Rowse of ProBlogger just has a folder of plain text files. Each file has the title of a potential blog post.
Choose a calendar that works for you. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
Step 2: Fire Up Your Creativity
The next step is to create a list of content ideas. The best way to get started is to take a pen and paper and just write out as many ideas as you can think of.
Try to come up with at least 100 ideas in one sitting.
By forcing yourself past the easy and obvious ideas, you’ll start to discover some real gems (You can read more on this technique here).
Step 3: Dig Into Research
Now you’ve got down your own best ideas, it’s time to get out there and look for what’s working for others. What are the big topics in your niche right now? What are the emerging trends? What topics guarantee new blog traffic?
In other words: What’s hot and what’s not?
You can find the answer by:
- Looking at your blog analytics. What were your most popular articles this year? What are your most popular articles of all time? What got the most shares on social media? Take notes, and keep your eyes open for any patterns that emerge. You’ll likely discover that certain topics are popular, and certain types of post (e.g. list posts, infographics, image posts) are also popular. Whatever’s working for your audience, you want to do more of.
- Check out the competition. What are the other big players in your niche writing about? Which of their blog posts are getting the most attention? Which of their posts have the most comments and shares? Again, take notes, and look for trends. See yourself as a gold-miner looking for blogging gold.
- Browse [Google Trends](http://Google.com/trends]. Search different topics in your niche to see whether interest in that topic is rising or waning. Here’s how the topic “social media” is trending:
Google Trends also shows you related topics that are hot, giving you more ideas for what to write about.
- Look at what the little guys are doing. Don’t just look to the big boys in your niche for inspiration. That’s what everyone is doing, and it leads to copycat content all over the web. Instead, look for originality. You’ll find this in small, un-noticed blogs. Of course you can’t know if the ideas you find there will have the wings they need to fly, but you at least know they’re original.
Step 4: Tap Into Your Inner Wisdom
You’ve now got hundreds of ideas to work with.
But you don’t want to write about all of it.
You only want to write about the stuff you care about. That’s because when you care about it, you’ll be more motivated to write. And you’ll write better content.
Go back through your ideas, answering the following questions:
- What resonates with you?
- What do you feel excited to write about?
- What makes you want to start writing, right now?
Only take the topics you feel excited about. Discard the rest. The selection of topics you choose is part of what makes your blog unique.
Step 5: Transform Your Ideas Into Headlines
(This step is optional, but highly recommended).
You’ve come up with a ton of your own ideas, you’ve seen what’s working for others, and you’ve chosen the pick of the crop.
Now, for each of your ideas, take your magic writing wand and turn it into a headline. Even better, turn each idea into five headlines. You can write about the same topic from many different angles, or you can turn ideas into a series. The more the merrier.
Step 6: Put Your Ideas Into Your Calendar
This is the easy part. You’ve got all your ideas down, so you’re ready to put them into the calendar you chose in Step 1.
For each of your articles, set a due date and a publish date. If you work with a team of writers, you can assign the articles between you.
Step 7: Write
Time to get writing! Now you’ve got a calendar in place, and deadlines, you’ll feel more motivated to sit down and write. Plus, there’s nothing to stop you getting ahead of schedule.
Also, remember your editorial calendar is a flexible document. It’s not set in stone, and you can change it through the year as you need to. At Social Caffeine, we sometimes bump our planned articles to a later date if we’re submitted a great guest post, or there’s something topical that we must write about right now.
Bonus Step: Do This Now!
Go back and re-read this blog post, putting the steps into practice. Get your editorial calendar pumped up and ready to roll for 2014!
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