John Biggs

Book Excerpt: Bloggers Boot Camp By Our Own John Biggs

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Our own John Biggs and his former Gizmodo co-worker, Charlie White, have just released a book about blogging called Bloggers Boot Camp . These gents produced tens of thousands of posts between them, written for some of the biggest names in blogging, and are generally good blokes. Their goal in this to teach how to write for blogs. This isn’t a book on starting a Tumblr or a WordPress.com. It’s about thinking about your blog posts in terms of content, value, and sharing and it discusses search optimization not through dirty tricks but through good, hard work.

Here is an excerpt of the book and they’d love you to pop over to their website to pick it up or check out the 12-week virtual writing course they’re running with the help of Simversity.


The Two Rules

Ignore these two rules at your peril. Understand that blogs take on a life of their own, and if your goal is to blog to make money, or you are blogging as an extension of your interests or job, these two rules – part of what we would call a “blogging plan” – are absolutely paramount. Blogging is a job. It may be your second job but it is a process that takes hard work and discipline. We have been blogging for almost a decade, and it’s a constant struggle as well as a source of constant reward. Our days begin at 8 a.m. and end whenever the last news item flickers across our screens.

Rule 1. Always Be Blogging

The best blogs are updated daily, if not hourly. There is nothing worse than a ghost blog, a site that seems to be updated sporadically at best. Readers are becoming experts at sensing the freshness of content. If you leave your blog sitting for weeks at a time with no new posts, they’ll catch on quickly and your audience will migrate elsewhere.

Keep posting! What do you mean, there’s nothing to write about today? Of course there is! There’s always something going on that would interest your readers every day. Your goal is to be the person “in the know” about all things involved in your topic. If you truly love what you’re writing about, you won’t have any problem writing something at least daily. If you find you’re having trouble, you may be facing a serious problem in your choice of topic. There is no topic too mundane that you can’t pull a post out of it. Can’t find news? Post some pictures from a recent activity related to your topic. Talk about what other bloggers in your niche are doing. Prepare a round-up of news from other sources.

Your posts don’t always have to be news. They can be a personal story, a reaction to the news of the day, or a simple link to another site with information you enjoyed. However, if you find yourself getting lazy and failing to post, you’ve broken the first cardinal rule of your blogging plan.

However, don’t fall into the “personal blog post” trap. Don’t tell the story of your problems at the DMV or your relationship issues. Don’t tell us what you had for dinner last night (unless you’re a food critic), or fill us in on every detail of that dream you had last night. Don’t spring your heartfelt musings on your unsuspecting audience. But if you can somehow creatively weave some personal experience into your posts, that could be the very thing that makes the story yours.

Lacking inspiration? Create a calendar for yourself and a to-do list. Add items to the to-do list as you think of them and then add them to the calendar. These “evergreen” post ideas can be published at any time. If you find yourself frustrated or facing the dreaded writer’s block, simply go to this list of items you haven’t gotten around to yet and do one.

That doesn’t mean you’ll have to sit in front of your computer 24 hours a day. A lot of blogging is thinking, observing, and discovering a fresh angle on a topic that’s already been covered elsewhere. If you keep your blog top-of-mind, you’ll find yourself coming up with ideas wherever you go. Who knows where you’ll find inspiration? Beethoven went for daily walks, and heard a bird singing the first four notes of his Fifth Symphony. Occurrences, people, objects and new experiences that have great potential to be turned into blog posts are everywhere, and it’s up to you to tease them out, write about them, make them interesting and grab your readers with them.

Rule 2. Post Consistently

What sort of voice will your blog have? You want readers to become familiar with the way you do things, the way you express yourself, and the way your blog is laid out. Do you want to do long posts, daily? Many short posts each day? Digests of news with simple links? Videos? There’s a variety of ways to build a blog and most of us would choose a scattershot approach to posting daily. However, if you find you enjoy writing longer posts, you may want to stick with that style. It gives your readers plenty to chew on on a regular basis, and you can still add shorter posts in between. Establish your style at the beginning, and keep it consistent.

Having a style doesn’t mean you have to be snarky, mean, or silly. It means you need to be clear, concise, and you need to stand out in a vast sea of “me-too” content. Be the person people link to when they want to prove a point. Be the expert other experts trust when it comes to matters of technical accuracy. Pride yourself on a consistent and readable style. And make it sound like you.

However long your posts will be, it’s most important to decide on a writing style. Will you embrace vulgarity with your site, cussing like a sailor in every sentence, or will you be prim and proper? Will you attack your topics with sarcasm and snark, or will you play it straight? Will you have a happy, carefree and uplifting approach, or will you incite your readers to share your anger? Will you find a way to be different, standing out from the crowd of blogs blanketing the earth with your dazzling insights?

Maybe you’re funny. However, comedy, as they say, is hard. One of the pitfalls we’ve seen in new bloggers attempting a snarky style is the descent into meanness for meanness’s sake. When you focus on a topic with any intensity, you “go native” and allow things to affect you more than they should. The antidote to this is to write everything in a hard news style or a more conversational style. Also avoid lashing out at figures and major players in your niche. And remember, a bit of self-deprecating humor and personality goes a long way.

Don’t forget to make it personal. The one thing the “big newsrooms” can’t do is inject personality into their work. Sure, there are some exceptions, but on the aggregate many news sites are stale and boring by dint of their mission. Will this be a log of your experiences and opinions? Unless you’re going to be simply rewriting news stories, or doing straight reporting, you’ll probably insert many of your experiences and opinions into your writing. In the early days of blogging, much of the writing was a lot like the early days of Twitter, where writers would talk about everyday trivialities such as what they just ate for breakfast. Now, writers have taken it way beyond that level, by orders of magnitude. If you’re a solo act, let the readers inside, bare your soul. That’s entertainment!

If you’re writing a blog with a group of colleagues, your blog style will need to reflect the fact that there is a group of people working together. Referring to yourself as “we” is probably the best idea here, but that’s not to say you can’t use the proverbial “we” when you’re writing a solo blog, either. This is an important element of your blog style: Will you write is a group or as a collection of individuals? You can choose whether each post will reflect the separate opinions and attitudes of individual writers, where all the writers in your group strive to set themselves apart. Or, you can work as an editorial team, akin to how newspapers editorial boards write, and speak as a group.

We’ve asked you a lot of questions in this first chapter, and we would suggest you carefully contemplate each one and come up with solid answers for yourself. Be honest. If you do this, you’ll be on a sturdy foundation for starting up a successful enterprise. After you’ve gone through that period of self-examination, you might be thinking this sounds like a lot of work. You would be right. In fact, writing might seem easy to you, but the daily dedication needed for a successful blog is hard. You must summon all your energy and enthusiasm, applying a steady and dedicated work ethic to this venture. Set yourself realistic goals, and meet them every day, and you’d be surprised how even a small amount of work – applied consistently – will turn a series of seemingly small efforts into a monumental achievement.


John is giving away ten copies of the book to ten random commenters who explain, succinctly, why they do or don’t need his help blogging. If you’re interested in the course, please follow and Tweet @johnbiggs to request a discount code with hashtag #bootcampme.

You can buy Nook and Kindle versions of the book here and check out the course here.