When drafting a blog post, I’ve learned to associate a word count drop with the post nearing completion. If I’m struggling with a post, the remedy is usually to delete a few sentences and paragraphs. It’s surprising how each digression makes the piece harder to write. And how, after deleting a couple of them, the post’s writing sometimes falls into place.
For my blog, this means I can split what I want to write over many small posts, with each post focusing on fewer things. As a result, I’m posting frequently, and it feels good.
Deleting is hard
Deleting is hard. One technique that I use is to cut and paste instead of deleting. I’ll cut a promising paragraph that doesn’t fit the piece’s focus, and paste it in a new, dedicated draft. Like magic, the original piece becomes more focused. There’s less to revise. I’m more likely to post something.
The resulting drafts folder is also comforting. I needn’t worry about deleting the misplaced paragraph because it isn’t really deleted. Just moved. And maybe one day, when I’m rummaging for something to write, I’ll develop that cut paragraph into a standalone post. This prospective standalone post will do the idea more justice than a misplaced paragraph would have.
For example, this post started as a general post about blogging. That draft quickly grew to hundreds of words, involved several ideas, and needed a lot of work.
The post spawned three other drafts as I tried to cut and paste paragraphs to focus the post. But even then, the post needed a lot of work.
At this point, I could have cut the details and expanded the scope by making the post a high-level overview, like I did in the Podcast Player project summary. Instead, I shelved that post and developed one of its offshoot drafts into the post you’re reading now.
It keeps going
Even after dramatically limiting the scope, I had trouble with this post. It started off as being about quantity and quality. Early on, I cut the quality discussion. The post grew to be as long as the original piece, albeit easier to work with.
Then I ran into an unexpected stage: I had written and revised all of the paragraphs I wanted to publish, but the post still didn’t feel ready. I kept revising and rewriting. I’d change the tense of a sentence’s clause, and then look up a synonym, and then change the tense back. I normally try to revise in one day, but I was on day #3 of minor fixes. Something was up.
Ironically, in a post about deleting digressions, the fix turned out to be deleting digressions. I had this paragraph about journaling as contrasted with blogging. I thought was interesting, but it was different from the rest of the post. I finally reluctantly moved it to my drafts folder. And like magic, this post finally felt ready.
Summary, note to self
It’s easier to write a post if it’s focused on fewer things. If a post feels like it’s far from ready, either because there’s a lot more to write, or because revising has stalled, look for that topic or paragraph that doesn’t belong. You can move the promising paragraph to a new draft.
- “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
- The expression “kill your darlings”, about deleting your favorite phrases and paragraphs has stuck with me.
- What helped me apply it to blogging was a section of Sacha Chua’s ebook on breaking down blog post ideas into posts that answer individual questions.