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Take Control of Your Blog Posting Schedule

Keep control, and get where you need to be. (Photo courtesy Julie Velez of Phoxie Photo.)

Last week, I spent a surprising amount of time talking about a bridge. It’s no surprise that particular example sprang to mind. Bridges have had some special significance in my life so far.

When I was seventeen, I spent an evening hanging out at my girlfriend’s house, all the way across town. It was edging into winter, and in spite of the threat of some inclement weather, I let the compelling sentiments of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” convince me to stay late. Afternoon stretched to evening, and all of a sudden I realized it was dark outside, and I wasn’t going to make my curfew.

So I rushed home, newly licensed and driving a rear-wheel drive baby Japanese pickup truck (it was, I dunno, a sixteenth-ton pickup, maybe?). Right around the time I got up onto the highway, I started noticing that half the raindrops hitting my windshield were really snowflakes. Another mile down, I flew onto a bridge, and instantly I started fishtailing. I jerked my wheel hard against the direction of the skid (oops), and when that didn’t fix the problem, I freaked out and slammed on the brakes (oops).

I ended up pinballing back and forth from guardrail to guardrail, totally out of control, and skidded to a stop just short of the thirty-foot dropoff at the far end of the bridge. If I’d been on time, I’d have been home in bed, enjoying a good book. Instead I spent the next two hours shivering in the snow, waiting for a tow truck and filling out a police report.

Five years later — in college now, and still driving that same pickup — I had Memorial Day plans to go visit my parents in Little Rock, but that’s a long drive from Oklahoma City. Worse still, I forgot to gas up on the way out of town, so halfway there the little orange fuel pump lit up on my dashboard. I left the interstate, and rolled blindly down state highways for half an hour, terrified the truck might choke to a stop at any moment, before I finally found a rusty old gas station where I could fill up. By the time I got back to the interstate, I’d burned an entire hour on a detour.

And it got worse, ten miles down the road I hit the worst traffic jam I’d ever seen — cars and trucks and semis all parked on the road, and I could see that it stretched for miles. I slammed to a stop, threw myself back against the seat in frustration, and flipped on the radio to try to get an idea how far away the wreck was.

It wasn’t a wreck though. A barge had slammed into the supports of a bridge over the Arkansas river and taken the bridge down. If I’d been on time, I’d have been in the river. Instead, I spent the next two hours creeping with the rest of the holiday traffic along a narrow, twisting detour, and whispering prayers of thanks that I was still alive.

Taking Control

Obviously both of those experiences stick strong in my memory, and what really stands out to me is the similarity, and the inversion. In both cases, I nearly died in a situation I had no control over. The difference, though, is that the one that hurt more — physically, emotionally, and financially — was the ice.

And the frustrating thing, the lesson that has stuck with me, is that I should have had control. If I’d known what I was doing, I likely could have regained some traction, tapped the brakes to get to a safer speed, and gotten home safe in spite of the storm. I don’t know how many people have lectured me about everything I did wrong that night, but the lesson has stuck.

Life can really mess you up when you’re not in control, but half the time it’s your own fault that you’re not.

That’s a lesson I’ve had to learn several times, actually. And you’d better believe it’s a lesson with applications to writers! I’ve muddled hundreds of pages into a novel with an unworkable plot because I never bothered to take control of the story structure (or even think about it at all). I’ve spent years at a time not writing at all because I just didn’t have time, and those were some of the worst years of my life. At some point, I finally realized I was in control of that, too. I made the time to write, and I made my life better, too.

If you’re not careful, if you just let life happen, it can drop you places you really don’t want to be. My most recent experience with that was about…oh, six or seven weeks ago.

Writing to a Schedule

I’ve said before that one of the biggest challenges of blogging is writing to a regular deadline. It wears you down, and if you’ve read my final write-up of the Pre-Writing Challenge, you know that I hit a point at the beginning of February where I was so worn out by my deadlines here at Unstressed Syllables that I was ready to call it quits. I hated it.

The problem is, a regular posting schedule is one of the most important things you can do to make a blog successful. I did some serious research before I started here, and blogger after blogger after blogger will tell you that consistency creates readers, and every missed deadline costs you a reader. That makes sense to me, but then digging a little deeper, you’ll find that the very next rule for building a blog is, “post often.”

Ugh. Most people say daily (and many of them suggest multiple posts daily), but I knew I couldn’t do that. I settled on four posts a week, and even that tore me up. Every deadline wore me down, until I was ready to quit altogether. Maybe you’ve experienced the same thing.

You want to know the answer? The trick? If you’ve read my updates on the Challenge, you already know. For that matter, if you just read the section headings for this article, you know. The answer is to take control. Take control of your blog posting schedule, instead of drifting helplessly into your deadlines, and your blog will blossom and come to life again. Not only that, but you’ll learn to love it, too.

Scheduling in a Spreadsheet

For my part, I used a spreadsheet to take control. It was a desperation maneuver, the only possible method I could see to fulfilling my commitment to the Pre-Writing Challenge, but in just a few minutes, it completely changed my blogging experience.

From my weekly updates post:

All night Tuesday evening, I sat on the couch in the living room while my daughter danced and spun and my wife watched old episodes of Dead Zone, and I worked on a spreadsheet. I made it in Google Docs, using rows for weeks and columns for days, and made up a color key to track what I’d accomplished. By the end of the night, it looked like this:

Posting Schedule 0

There’s no need to strain your eyes trying to read the small print — it’s the colors that matter. Orange indicated a post that had a title (and nothing else). Yellow meant I’d started writing on it, light green that I’d finished a full draft, and dark green that the post was completely finished, and ready to publish. In the chart above, you can see that only three posts were done.

Just coming up with the titles was a challenge, though. I needed to figure out how they fit together, how they would build on each other, and make up at least a guess as to the contents of each topic, to avoid too much overlap or too little content, day to day.

It was a lot of work. It was energizing, though. By the time I was done, just making up a bunch of names, I really felt like I’d accomplished something. Everything I was doing with the blog suddenly felt more solid. More real.

In other words, for the first time since I’d started blogging, I was in control. If you want to read a more detailed description of my experience, check out that post. It’s got screenshots of my schedule every week through the end of the Challenge, so you can watch the progress.

In spite of its length, that proved to be a really popular blog post (for the people participating in the Challenge anyway). More than that, it became an inspiration. Carlos copied my spreadsheet and used it to get organized. So did Eleanor (another Challenger), and Dave Doolin from Website-in-a-Weekend.

Dave eventually said that the spreadsheet was the most useful part of the Challenge. Carlos said of it, “your methods saved my ass in this challenge and it’s only getting better even though the challenge is over.”

It works. It’s a little thing, a simple thing, but it saves lives. Don’t give up on your posting schedule. Start one, if you don’t have one. Then map it out. You can do this in Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice’s spreadsheet tool or any of a dozen other ways. You can use rows and columns of Post-It Notes on your office wall.

We all used Google Docs for ours, and if you’re not already familiar with that product, you should be. I’ll put together a thorough introduction to it for you in a couple weeks. For now, in whatever way you can, get started. Take control, and watch your blog grow.

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

8 Responses to “Take Control of Your Blog Posting Schedule”

  1. Bryce says:

    Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog and what an encouragement it has been to amateurish me. Keep up the good work

  2. Aaron Pogue says:

    Thanks so much, Bryce! You have no idea how much that means to me.

    I’ve still got your novel on my To Do list. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you about it yet, but I have high hopes my schedule will slow down a lot in a week or two.

  3. Shannon O says:

    This is a great post and it’s very timely for me! I was posting daily – and recently have opted to slow my schedule down.

    When I was posting daily I found that when I gained subscribes, I lost them just as quickly. I wondered if it was because people were overwhelmed with my posting frequency. So I opted to try something new and slow it down.

    Since I have posted less, I actually have MORE subscribers and more comments on my posts.

    Maybe there is such a thing as posting too much? I’m still trying to find a rhythm that works for me and my blog. I use windows calendar in a similar method and it helps a lot.

    However I believe your tactics listed above would be even more helpful.

    Thanks for the info.

  4. Aaron Pogue says:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to say so, Shannon, and for sharing your story.

    It’s a fascinating game, trying to figure out everything you’re doing wrong as a blogger. I spend a ton of time wrestling with decisions about posting frequency, post length, topics and level of detail.

    The goal I always focus on is to be genuinely helpful, though. I’m really glad to know this one was!

  5. Hi Aaron,
    Great advice (although I must confess you had me hooked before you even got that far. Your bridge experiences were terrifying!) and by funny coincidence I got back to the spread sheet just a couple of days ago. It’s now several weeks after the challenge was put to bed and yet I’m still learning from it.

    Like you’ve expressed, I hit something of a wall. The daily posts were good for the blog which in turn was good for the charity but I was getting tired of deciding what to write next. There was no pattern or routine. Last week I had something of eureka moment and came up with a pattern for posting based on a theme for each day of the week. And now, it’s all mapped out on that lovely little spreadsheet 🙂

  6. Aaron Pogue says:

    I noticed you were doing that, Eleanor, but I didn’t realize it was a result of your posting schedule.

    I’m glad you had your eureka! I noticed the daily themes (although I’m not sure I realized they were new), and they caught my attention. It’s neat how that same organization appeals to your readers, too. It’s easier for me to connect with something I’m reading if I’ve got an idea where it fits.

    That’s a great lesson for all of us. Thanks for sharing it!

  7. […] Take Control of Your Blog Posting Schedule […]

  8. […] your experience is anything like mine, you’ll find that scheduling your blog posts in advance not only improves the quality of your content, it also makes blogging fun […]