31 Days to a Better Blog--Days 16 & 17: Heatmaps and Stumble Ads
My Personal Learning Environment Mindmap Revised

How I Organize Myself to Write a Blog Post

This week I'm doing a series of posts responding to reader questions. Today, I'm going to a question from Nancy Riffer who wants to know how I organize myself when I'm writing a blog post.

Organized_2_2 I have a confession to make, Nancy. I don't.

OK, not entirely true, but pretty close. There is some method to my madness, so I'm going to try to share. (Note--back in February I  also touched on some of these things when I posted on my writing process.
 

Gathering Ideas
My first issue is to gather ideas. Obviously my trusty Netvibes is a great source of information, but I also do a lot of reading (books and magazines, as well as online), listen to NPR, and try to just pay attention to what's going on around me. A lot of my blog posts have ended up being a meta-analysis of things that have happened to me that I wanted to process to make some sense out of them.

How I document these ideas depends on where I get them from. 

  • Online--If I find something online, 9 times out of 10 I bookmark it with del.icio.us and tag it with "blogthis" and/or "toread." I have an RSS feed set up in Netvibes to these tags in my account and they are located on my main tab, so whatever I bookmarked shows up as a new item in Netvibes to remind me that I wanted to look at it.

For longer articles or for posts where I want to highlight a particular quote or passage, I also use Diigo, which I've written about before. I can use it to bookmark pages, but I'm mostly interested in my ability to use a virtual yellow highlighter directly online and to add digital yellow sticky notes, too. So when I go back to the page, it's like the page in a book with my highlights (other people may have highlights, too), my comments and so on. It's really very cool and helps me to pull my thoughts together.

For both del.icio.us and Diigo, I try to add in some notes on what I want to say in a blog post so that I don't forget them, although I admit that I'm not always good about that.

  • Off-line--I always carry some kind of journal with me so that whenever I hear something I think I want to write about, I have a place to write things down. Then when I get home, I'll pull out the page(s) and either write something immediately or put them in a folder I keep for the blog. Again, when I write down the information that caught my attention, I also try to record what I wanted to blog on it. Lately I've also been blogging in my sleep. (And you think I'm kidding!)

Clutter Clutter_2Clutter_3 Clutter_4 Processing and Writing
OK, this is where things get messy. I tend to start writing a post directly into Typepad. There will be a number of fitful starts and stops as I try to find my way into the topic. Then I'll realize that I'm missing some piece of information or want to find more resources or I have a question that I want answered. So I'll save the post in draft format and start doing some searching around, adding to my post as I find new things.

It's really not some kind of organized process with note cards and color coding, and information organized into folders.  I've tried these things and I just can't keep up with them.  I  happen to be fortunate that I have the kind of brain that seems to remember articles I've seen and as I write, I'll make connections and go looking for that information to pull in. Usually I can find it because I can picture where I left it. If the information was online, I either go to my bookmarks or do a Google search. Frankly, Google is the best memory aide I have at this point.

So that's it--not very fancy and probably not very helpful.  I'm the kind of person who needs things pretty loose. I'm less creative and energized when I'm too focused on being organized and productive. I need enough structure to find things, but no more than that. Besides, I get more serendipity when two disparate slips of paper are next to each other on my desk.

How do you organize yourself to write your blog posts?

Flickr photos via Lagomorph and Antheawatson.

Comments

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Michele,
When I was first out of art school many years ago I was hired by a sewing store to teach a class on machine embroidery. I showed everyone how to set up the tensions and feet on their machines, then I stood at the front and said, "that's basically it, now you just draw with the sewing machine".

As you might imagine, the class sat there in stunned silence until one brave soul said, "DRAW with a sewing machine? I don't know how to draw with a pencil".

What was so effortless for me, was a total mystery to them. The insight that gave me the guts to start to blog was there are always learners behind and ahead of me. As there are many of us behind you. This is another great post. Just using delicious and Diijo in this way will be another big piece in my campaign to understand how to get organized in a web 2.0 world. Nothing fancy, but incredibly helpful.

Some of my blog posts are spontaneous and quick, but many of them take form over hours or days, a little dab at a time.

Over the past few months, I've gotten into the habit of jotting quickie ideas down in Google Notebook. I especially like that app because it goes with me. Anywhere I have access to the Internet - home, work, wherever - I have my Google Notebook files.

So, with those draft ideas in GN, I then revisit, tweak, tune, add, and just generally bounce 'em off the wall or other people until they start shaping up into something cohesive or compelling. And sometimes those little seedling ideas just don't germinate and end up getting weeded out alltogether.

So, I've got something of a system, but I dunno if that can truly be considered organized...

Hi,

I follow a pretty similar process to the one you described. And yes I do know what you mean about blogging in your sleep. When I first started my blog that happened to me too. :)
Cheers

Hi Michele, yes a similar process. Liked the picture of the desk too (but is it your desk?). That could be a fun post, of our 'workspaces'!

Christine--I love how you paint a picture with a story--must be that art background. ;-) What you described is actually one of my particular challenges. I have a hard time sometimes with "beginner's mind" and understanding that if I can deconstruct my own thought processes there can be value in that. I think that's one of the curses of experience in anything. We start to take what we know for granted and it just gets absorbed into unconsciousness where we don't see it anymore. I do like it when people ask the questions about this stuff because it forces me to do the meta-thinking.

Rob--Your experience illustrates to me the "personal" in personal learning environments. I used to use Google Notebooks, but for whatever reason, it didn't work for me or fit into my process. But for you it's perfect. As I think about how to facilitate other people in the use of these tools, it just brings home to me the point that we need to give people several options and the "permission" to explore and use what works for them.

Dweezel--I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who has visions of blog posts dancing in her head!

And Laura--no, that's NOT my desk. It's the peaceful Zen desk to which I aspire, though. :-)

It would be cool to see pictures of people's work spaces--I've seen other bloggers invite readers to share their spaces and I've gotten some useful tips out of it. And also felt better about my own mess!

As a new blogger, I don't have a very organized process for writing. I'm often thinking about topics and jotting stuff down on paper or emailing myself a thought. Sometimes I'll jump on my blog and type away, then draft it for later review.

I also have an electronic notebook where I keep a running list of possible topics that sometimes don't get looked at for a while. But when I go back, I get a fresh idea and run with it.

Michele

I've learned to trust the quick, 'in the moment' type blog post which has been sparked by something I have experienced, or by an idea about something which I have been stalking down. What these posts maybe lack in substantive comment, they make up for in capturing my thinking the way a snapshot captures a moment in time. They generally contain more personal comment ... often how I feel about something. This is just as important as what I think about something. Hey, I work in the theatre! I often dash these off ... capture these thoughts in Twitter. It seems an appropriate forum. 140 characters to express something. I'll haul them in later and develop them perhaps.

The other bookend to this kind of post involves drawing together material which reflects the process of stalking an idea or indeed, a straight logging of a process of work on a project. These posts often include a review of how well or not something worked . an approach, a new bit of software, student response. The prep involves tagging content from RSS feeds, and Google notebooking useful pages for hotlinking as references or citations on or offline. Like Rob I then tweak and bounce a bit ... mull till it has meaning for me. At this point I can write something that is more considered.

I try to write in reasonably 'bite-sized' chunks which reflect not only a progression of thinking, but a more disciplined focus, and I guess the stylistics of blog posting. Some posts are longer than others ... I do work over some posts, and some are clearly left in draft form while I do more mulling away from the keyboard.

PS Are we talking about how we think here?

Thank you Michele for answering my beginner's question. Your post is very helpful to me. I've started using "blogthis" in del.icio.us and need to figure out how to create a feed in Netvibes.

Like Kathy, only worse, I am currently keeping notes for what I want to write about on backs of envelopes, Google pages, in del.icio.us. The writing process goes on in my head -- not yet in my sleep. I've tried using a notebook offline for other writing projects but I never seem to have it where I am. One small enough to carry won't have enough space and a larger one gets left somewhere (downstairs, at a friend's, etc.)

My thinking process is to see relationships between diverse ideas. I haven't yet gotten the hang of blog writing or maybe I should say that in 5-6 posts I don't yet have my "voice." Thanks for the post on Empty Pews. It reminds me that I can't possibly learn all about writing blogs and managing Web 2.0 tools in the first three weeks. Like you, I have high expectations of myself.

I'm slowed down by having to make the links I want to in my posts. What tools do others use to save link information so links don't take so much time?

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