Tuesday Tip 006: My Secret Weapons for Blogging Consistently

Lately I've been reading about habits.

A few months ago I finished Gretchen Rubin's book Better than Before that provided all kinds of practical tips on how to change your habits. Now I'm reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and it brilliantly unpacks the science behind habits. Have you ever driven yourself home and not really recalled any memory of the drive?  Or have you gone on "autopilot" and accidentally driven yourself to Chipotle (oh, just me?) It proves that habits are disconnected, in many ways, from our conscious thoughts. 

Habits are powerful. And one way to change them is to remove the friction in the process of doing something that you really do want to accomplish.

[Enter the Editorial Calendar.]

An editorial calendar makes blogging consistently so much easier. I don't have to reinvent the wheel every week when I sit down to write. Here's four other things that together with an editorial calendar help me blog consistently: 

1. A standing list of blog post ideas. I view the world through the lens of a writer. I keep an eye out for blog ideas all the time and I often add ideas to a standing list. 

2. An expectation. I blog each week not only because I want to but also because I have an audience that expects a new post each week. I feel a responsibility to you to provide you something valuable and new each week. 

3. An intuitive image creation tool. In the past, creating images for blog posts was a real drag for me. I'm a writer, not a graphic designer! Canva has changed my perspective on creating images. I can't recommend it enough. 

4. A blogging platform that's easy to use. Creating new pages and blogs on Squarespace is painless. Blogging is more than writing. And having tools and a platform that support me as a writer really helps me stick to my commitment to blog weekly. 

I'm learning in blogging, as in life, that if we make it easier for ourselves to do the good thing (in this case--blog) then we will inevitably do it more often. So keep a stash of ideas, create an editorial calendar, and use a platform and tools that you like. You'll be churning out brilliant new content as quick as I can say "burrito bowl for here white black chicken."

Get your copy of the Blogger's Editorial Calendar Cheat Sheet here.

If the freelance life appeals to you, check out my on demand webinar: Going Freelance.

10 Ways to Up Your Writing Game


If you have a message you’re passionate about conveying, you’ve probably already recognized the importance of good writing. As a social media and communication instructor I’ve been amazed at the array of writing levels I’ve come across in college classes. Some students (a very few) have such a challenging time getting the mechanics of writing correct, that I’m completely distracted from what they’re trying to convey to the reader. On the opposite end of the spectrum, writers like Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Harper Lee, and Shakespeare have changed the world through their excellent writing. If we ever want to convince anyone of anything, we have to be able to communicate well.

So back to you. You have a passion. You have a cause. You have a business. You want to promote something

What can you do now, in practical terms, to inspire others to support it? 

I want to encourage you to focus on improving your writing game. Here’s ten ways to do just that.

1. Do Morning Pages. One of my favorite books on creativity is Julie Cameron’s the Artist’s Way. Cameron’s book is chock full of wonderful ideas to get your creative juices flowing but her most formidable idea is to start each morning writing three full pages of unedited, stream of conscious writing. In her own words: “Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.” The more you write, the better you will get at writing.

2. Write 200 words a day. Make a habit of writing about aspects of your passion/work/message/thoughts/business every day. 200 words is a manageable goal (that’s about the length of a paragraph or two.) All it takes is about 200 words a day to begin to create a catalogue of content you can use for blog posts, social media updates, content papers, eBooks, workshop content, and eventually full-length books. A secret of creating great content consistently is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel each time you want to share your message with the world.

3. Use Hemingway Editor. Ever wish you had an editor who could look over your writing before you hit “publish?” The Hemingway app analyzes your writing and highlights text that can be improved by suggesting you use a simpler word, use active voice, simplify complex sentences, etc. Give it a whirl. In fact, when I’m done writing this post, I’ll use it myself. 

4. Read Bird by Bird. Anna Lamott’s classic writing book is practical and inspiring. It starts off like this: “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around mybrother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

5. Read On Writing Well. One of the most helpful texts I read in my journalism classes, Zinsser’s book has sold something like a million copies. Read it. You can start by reading my post celebrating his wonderful writing advice

6. Use active voice. Sometimes in our first swipe at writing something we have trouble getting to the point at the top of the sentence. Let me rephrase that. Get to the point at the top of the sentence. It can be hard but it makes for better writing. 

7. Draw readers in with an enticing introduction sentence. Make that first sentence pop. If you’re writing an article on a new coffeeshop write a first sentence that makes the reader feel like she is there. And if it’s a blog post make sure it clearly indicates what the reader can expect from the rest of the piece.

8. Edit ruthlessly. The quote has been attributed to William Faulkner, Stephen King and Allen Ginsberg. We don’t know who said it first but we do know it’s a hard truth. “Kill your darlings.” Some of the most beautiful passages have to go. Serve the story. Serve your audience. Don’t preserve text just because you like it. 

9. Write like a person. This is a piece of advice I’ve stood by for some time. This separates the good writing from the trying-to-be-good writing. Write the way you speak. Yes of course you can be more articulate, more well-edited, and more clear (isn’t that one of the perks of writing over speaking?) but be sure you don’t sound like a robot, or a rambler, or (God forbid) a telemarketer. 

10. Write what you want to write. Maria Popova of BrainPickings is a big advocate of this one. If you think the topic will be interesting or helpful to your audience but you're not into it then don't write about it. The spark starts with you! You'll write more and better if you write about things that interest you. So don't be swayed by what you think you should write. Write what you want to write. 

These are my ten tips to implement for more effective written communication. They can be summarized like this: write a lot, read a lot, edit a lot. 

Do you have writing advice of your own? I'd love to hear it in the comments! 

How to Create an Editorial Calendar for Your Blog

We bloggers are busy people. Blogging is something we love but it's far from our only focus. (Though that's the dream for a lot of us, right?!) So how can you make sure that your blog posts are topically on point and regularly showing up in your reader's inbox despite your busy schedule? Simplify things for yourself by creating an editorial calendar. Here's seven easy steps to knock out your editorial calendar and make sure your blog posts are getting written and you're hitting your goals. 

7 Steps to Creating an Editorial Calendar

1. Determine how often you will post. You've got to start here. What's a feasible goal for you? What is the minimum effective dose? Does your audience need to hear from you daily? Weekly? 2 times a week? 3? Determine how often you will post and which day of the week. 

2. Narrow down topics. Bloggers are people so naturally we like as much variety as anyone else! But your blog needs to be predictable to your audience. Giving your audience a survey of the Platforms of the Current Republican Presidential Candidates one week and then your Top 5 Reasons Hanson is the Best Band Ever the next week may seem fun and exciting but your audience likely won't trust you as an expert on both topics. And beyond that, they probably won't care about both topics. Remember: keep your audience in mind first! What is useful to them? 

3. Add contributors. Are you authoring your blog solo? Do you have a team? Plug your writers and their areas of expertise into your editorial concept. Make sure to communicate expectations to them and give them at least a week of cushion between their deadline and when you actually need to move forward with the post. 

4. Batch tasks. I take a half day every quarter to brainstorm blog post ideas for the next three months. Likely I've been reading and mulling over ideas that I can plug in right away. And another thing you can batch and knock out at once? A month's worth of posts. I prefer to write one at a time (I'm just a little ADD that way) but if you can sit down and knock out 4-8 blog posts in a day, you've potentially created content for a month or more. Avoid interruptions and knock out tasks all at once.  

5. Brainstorm headlines. When you are clear on the kinds of posts you will write--my post categories are around social media, writing, marketing, productivity, creativity and goals--you can begin to flesh out post ideas that fit within each category. Don't overthink it. Just, stream of conscious, write down as many post ideas as you can. Then review them and refine them to put them into words that are the most intriguing and "clickable." 

6. Plug headlines into your calendar. Once you have a good solid list of post ideas, plug those headlines into your calendar on the days you're committed to publishing new content. Be sure to spread out the types of posts throughout the month so there's a nice variety. I really like the Excel calendar template but you can also use a desk calendar, a planner or even your Outlook or Gmail calendar. 

7. Schedule weekly time to write. Habits are wonderful because they eliminate troublesome decision making. If you know that you write every Wednesday morning from 7:30-9:30, you don't have to look at your calendar each week and ask yourself "when am I going to write?" When Wednesday rolls around you don't have to ask yourself if you should make time for it. The decision has been made. Plug in meetings with yourself on your calendar. It's an unfortunate truth but blogs don't write themselves!

If you've ever been stumped at your laptop or just stared at your screen because you couldn't figure out what to write about, an editorial calendar may be the perfect solution to help guide you on the path to consistent blogging.

Do you already employ some tricks to make sure you blog regularly? Share em in the comments! 

5 Non-negotiable Elements of an Effective Blog Post

5 Non-negotiable elements of an effective blog post
5 Non-negotiable elements of an effective blog post

Fun facts time! I’ve written about 700 blog posts in the last ten years. For real. I've also  taught a social media class for the past year at Southern New Hampshire University in which I read and critique about 3 blog posts by 25 students for each class. That’s about 500 blog posts that I’ve read and graded.

Today I want to share some of the techniques I look for when I’m grading my students’ blogs and when I blog myself.

1. Eye-catching photo. Our culture is simply too image-oriented not to include a picture in every post. It doesn't have to be incredible artistry but it does need to be eye-catching and visually pleasing.

2. Interesting and informative headline. Your headline needs to make sense to more people than just you. While you don't want to give away the big take-away of your post (after all you do want people to bother reading the post itself) it should give the audience a clear sense of what they will receive in turn for reading the post.

3. Scannable content. Make the key points of your post easy to locate. Make a list. Put important words in bold. Use subheadings to break up the post. Keep paragraphs brief. Do what you can to help your audience find the jewels in your post before they're distracted by another website.

4. Clear take-aways. Keep your audience in mind first. Every post you write should add value--whether it's a practical tip or a different perspective. Make the point crystal clear.

5. Ending each post with a question. All of social media is a two-way conversation. Blogging is no exception. Spur reader engagement by concluding your post with a question. Remember: blog's aren't megaphones.

A lot of best practices exist in blogging but these are just a few of the non-negotiable cornerstones. What are your blogging non-negotiables? Do you have any blogging tips that you swear by? 

Why I'm Killing the old HSL Creative and Starting Fresh

“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” --William Faulkner

Why I'm Killing the Old HSL Creative and Starting Fresh
Why I'm Killing the Old HSL Creative and Starting Fresh

 I love the promise that comes with the turning of the calendar year. It's an opportunity to change it up, to do it better than last year, to get it right.

For me the turning of this calendar year means that work life is changing.

I’m working with Pursuant, a Dallas-based fundraising agency, in a brand journalist capacity. There will be blog posts and press releases and articles and video interviews and podcasts.

Oh heck yes, podcasts.

So what does that mean for HSL Creative? It means I’m pairing down and getting crystal clear on what I can contribute. This is where 2015’s “less but better” mantra comes in. Rather than supporting clients by writing articles and posts and executing their social media strategy on a daily basis, I’m stepping back and thinking big(ger) picture. The services list on my website currently has three categories and 18 different services. (18!)

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

 I'm focusing on "less but better" this year. This means I want to do less overall but do it a heck of a lot better. This approach means my clients really win. I'm not spreading out my energy in a million directions. I'm focusing on a few things and I'm going to do them as well as humanly possible. What does this mean, practically? It means saying "no" more often (a challenging and uncomfortable thing for me.) It means fewer shows, fewer freelance articles, fewer commitments overall. But the things I say "yes" to will get double (sometimes triple or quadruple or whatever, [you math people,  this probably deserves some sort of equation]) the effort  and focus.

So here's what all of that means for HSL Creative.

what HSL Creative will deliver in 2015

Strategy Consulting: I'll work with clients on brand strategy, social media strategy and help you think outside the box with rut-busting brainstorming sessions. You can rent my brain to create a social media plan for your business, give you feedback and perspective on your branding, or just get help when you're not sure where to go next with your business or career.

Speaking & Teaching: Last week's super successful Blogging for Business workshop, made it crystal clear to me that teaching and coaching are ways I can really help add value for clients. There will be more workshops, opportunities to receive coaching on blogging, social media and business, and guest lecturing, media appearances and other talks.  You can also take my social media, journalism and mass communication courses at SNHU--but maybe, only do that if you're working toward a degree there? Actually, I take that back. Do whatever you want. :-) 

Content & Special Projects: Expect me to up my blogging game this year. That means more free articles that relate directly to you and your marketing needs as well as social media analysis, and posts that center on goal-setting, career and lifehacks.  I'll also be taking on select writing projects ranging from magazine articles to bios and other content created just for the web.

So I'm killing HSL Creative as we know it. Goodbye, old friend. I'm trading old HSL Creative for the new crystal clear HSL Creative. I can help you through consulting, teaching, and writing content that is helpful to you. That's my promise for 2015.

What is your mantra for 2015? Are you revamping your approach to business? I'd love to hear about it!

Hilary is Principal of HSL Creative. If you'd like to learn more about one of the aforementioned opportunities, fill out the form below.

Announcing the First HSL Creative Blogging Workshop

HSL Creative Blogging Workshop at Toolry in Lynchburg, VA
HSL Creative Blogging Workshop at Toolry in Lynchburg, VA

I'm so thrilled to announce that I will be leading a workshop at Toolry (the massively inspirational co-working space in downtown Lynchburg) on January 17. This workshop is all about taking the headache out of blogging for your business. If you're a small-business owner, employee, artisan or even an Etsy shop owner, this workshop is for you.

Did you know that websites with a blog receive 55% more traffic than those that don't?

At this workshop you'll learn blogging best practices, how to create an editorial calendar, and you'll leave with a ton of great post ideas. Guaranteed.

This workshop would also make an incredible gift for the creative entrepreneur in your life.


Join me {in person} in Lynchburg on January 17! 

5 Steps to Blogging Consistently

Perhaps one of your new year’s resolutions looks something like this:

I resolve to blog more than 17 times this year (even though it’s time-consuming and I feel dry of great ideas and no one is paying me to do it.) 

I feel you on all accounts.

Regular blogging is hard and time and energy consuming. And yet, catch-22---if you don’t do it regularly you don’t build an audience. So you can’t wait for inspiration to strike. You have to go and make inspiration happen. So what can you do to make the regular habit of blogging become a little more seamless?

1. Set up an editorial calendar. The editorial calendar for this blog is set up on a quarterly basis. So I know the exact dates I’m blogging for the next three months. I know when I’m writing, when I’m posting and when it goes live. This takes the guesswork out of my schedule. And seeing the exact dates that I’m posting over the next few months actually makes the process feel less daunting.

2. Determine your blog’s key concepts. The topic of your blog can be hyper specific but it doesn’t have to be. I blog here about a range of categories that fit somewhere within social media, impactful messaging, goal setting and creativity. After determining the key concepts of my blog, I then plug those into the dates that I know I’m going to blog. So, the 3rd Tuesday of this month I know I will be producing a piece that fits within the category of “impactful messaging.” This narrows the scope in a big way. Now I just have to determine what I want to tackle within that category.

3. Crank out some headlines within those categories and plug them into your editorial calendar. But know that these aren’t the 10 commandments--you can reschedule or revise later. The most important aspect of this step is just coming up with an idea (or two or three) that you can flesh out later. It’s much easier to come up with a headline within a specific category than to completely start from scratch.

4. Go ahead and draft an outline before you start fleshing out your post. I often write a headline for a blog post a few weeks out, then an outline a few days out, then finally flesh out the entire post the day before it goes live. By working in steps I don’t feel drained of creativity when it’s time to produce a post. And working in these steps gives me a framework for where I’m headed.

5. Determine a regular time that you have a date with your keyboard. Know when it’s time to write. When you sit down to write your blog post you’ve already given yourself the upper hand. You know when you’re writing, what your topic is generally about, your title for the blog post and you’ve even come up with a rough outline. This is the part where you take the ideas that have been buzzing through your mind and give them focused attention. By marinating on your ideas for several days or weeks this part of the process becomes easy. You just connect the dots.

Blogging more consistently is an incredibly worth goal. It’s well-known that content marketing and adding value to your tribe aside from a sales pitch is instrumental in today’s economy. Do you have your own blogging tips? Share below!