Behind the Scenes – How I Blog

I am sure you have all been thinking “how does he find what to blog about, and how does he write his articles?” Right? No? Well, I am writing, and you are reading, so the whole mechanism is in my favour here, and if I want to explain these things, there’s nothing you can do. Ha! Except stop reading, that is.

If you’re still here, and if you have ever had the feeling that maybe, you too should start a blog, let me share how I do this. As a warning, of sorts, or maybe as encouragement.

Technicalities

I started blogging, privately, after I had moved to France in 1998. The move was my first to another country, so I documented my culture-shock, first via email, then online for a broader audience.

It was irregular, aimless, sometimes funny, often cringe-worthy, and deeply unprofessional. Kind of set the tone, I guess. It is still going, but I currently write about two posts a year, tops.

In January 2012, I started a web analytics-related blog in German, again pretty chaotically. At the time, my goal was to make the essence of what Adam Greco was posting available to a German audience.

I learned two things: a) you need a queue of posts, at least 3 months ahead, at all times, and b) keeping to a schedule helps both you and your audience.

So when I started this blog in March 2013, I settled on “every Tuesday morning”. I also had a queue of about 25 articles ready when I launched.

My advice: do not start a blog with a “Hello World!” article and good intentions. It’s hard to keep up, and writing a lot of content before you launch helps ease the pressure.

My fast-shrinking queue convinced me at some point that I had to change the schedule. I changed to “monthly” on the German blog, and to “every 1st and 3rd Tuesday” here, a move that has saved me from insanity.

Ideas

So how do you write 25 articles before you launch, and in the vicinity of 250 articles over a couple of years?

There are three big tributaries to the flow of ideas that I depend on:

  1. Situations from my day-to-day job,
  2. What other people write about, and
  3. Ideas that seemingly pop out of nowhere.

I have no control over the latter, and most of the time I don’t know where those come from.

I can decide how many other blogs I read, and I know that doing so will inspire me. Seeing someone like Simo Avaha write about how he does something with GTM/GA can trigger an “I know exactly how I’d do this in DTM/AA” moment. And reading stuff written by others often gives me ideas (like the post about DTM load order was inspired by Jim Gordon’s DTM Cheat Sheet), or they make me want to add my perspective.

The most steady supply, depending on what my current projects are like, is day-to-day work. I guess this is noticeable. I certainly notice how often, I’ll focus on something over stretches of time, DTM being the most prominent example. I am absolutely sure, Launch (the next-generation tag management that’ll come) will be equally prominently featured here.

There are probably lots of other sources. The whole business about testing kind of was triggered by a specific issue on the job, but it became more of an obsession over time, with articles just manifesting themselves every now and again.

Writing

How do I get from the idea to the published article?

I am a big fan of the Sublime Text editor. I also use Evernote. To make things even better, there is a plugin for Sublime that allows you to directly edit notes.

That is how my articles start, usually. I switch to Sublime, open the “Command Palette”, create a new note in Evernote, and write a title that will hopefully remind me of the idea.

[screenshot]
Sublime Text editing an Evernote note
Sometimes I immediately write a couple of lines, but most of the times I don’t.

(The screenshot above is a great example of a note I once opened, which I now really don’t understand anymore. What was I going to write?)

I have a tendency to write on trains, in airport lounges, or at home late, when the kids sleep. Those are not necessarily the best moments to have ideas, hence the immediate creation of a new note when I have an idea.

And I do forget quite a lot of ideas because I don’t always do it.

The biggest thing about blogging, for me, is to learn stuff.

I hope you’re not disappointed, but this blog has served me as a massive learning experience.

More often than not, I write something down because I have to. Because I don’t know how it works, and while finding out document my steps so I will be able to look them up later. Or because I do know them, but there are multiple ways, and since I am slightly chaotic, I want to make a decision and stick to it.

The articles that are open-ended, so to speak, where I start off not knowing where I’ll end up, are my favourite articles!

Everybody knows that what the creator likes most about his creations is seldom what the recipients like most. I think the same happens here. I was more than a little bit happy with the DTM load order post, and I’m already looking forward to doing the same research and article for Launch.

So there you have it.

If you want to blog (please do!), make sure you have ample queue before you go public, than set yourself a pace — a schedule — and stick to it. If your queue ever dries up, you’re in for a surprise: it is very difficult to blog against a deadline!

You’ll end up writing meta-stuff, like articles about how you blog…

3 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes – How I Blog

  1. Yeah this sounds about right. You have much more discipline than me. Most of mine have been from day-to-day stuff… but lately since I have Tagtician they are starting to gear more specifically towards data quality and DTM. I often find myself writing parts of an article and then deleting it half way through having already made my point in about 1 paragraph. I can’t tell you how many I have in my drafts folder.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Quick tip: Tracking Server & SSL – Web Analytics for Developers

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