Create an Editorial Calendar for Your Business Blog — But Be Prepared to Smash It All to Hades and Back

by Annie

in blogging, systematic

Flipping calendar pages

"Editorial Calendar" is NOT a dirty phrase.

There appear to be two separate schools of thought on the concept of an editorial calendar for business blogs.

One camp posits that editorial calendars — basically, a schedule for upcoming blog post topics, by week or by (usually) month — are massive time-saving tools for busy business-owning bloggers. They take the guess work out of life, and eliminate that “ZOMG whatamIgonnawriteaboutTODAY?!?!” feeling.

And the other camp says editorial calendars are bogus, ’cause you can’t possibly schedule inspiration — that making a decision in advance on what brilliance you’re gonna put on the blog next Thursday kills creativity.

It shouldn’t surprise you I fall squarely in the middle. (I blame law school. Seriously, I went in a fairly well-adjusted person and came out completely incapable of making a single decision, because I could argue both sides of the issue fairly compellingly.)

Planning To Be Inspired Does Not Make You An Idiot. It Makes You an Organized Creative Rock Star.

First off, though, I must dispel the “you can’t plan creativity” myth. Au contraire, mon freres, you most certainly can.

Or maybe it’d be more accurate to put it thus: Planning and scheduling are not incompatible with creativity. In fact, they can make you more creative.

Behind that whole “you can’t schedule inspiration” thing is a faulty perception (in my not-so-humble opinion) about the nature of creative work.

It rests on the presumption that inspiration is something that comes to you from afar, on its own terms and schedule, or … not. But as I’ve already explained, I don’t believe that for a second. Creative inspiration is something you cultivate, right?

Which Doesn’t Mean You Have to Ignore Inspiration That Comes Off-Schedule.

On the other hand, stuff happens, right? All. The. Time. Celebrities go off the rails. Huge political issues blow up into volcanoes of talking heads and glorious spin. Industries implode overnight.

Stuff happens, and you want to be able to stay flexible enough to take advantage of those lightning-strikes of linked contexts, where you see how two incredibly disparate things connect and you think to yourself:

Self, that would make a KILLER BLOG POST!

Annie’s Super-Sensible Middle-of-the-Road Solution to Having Your Cake And Eating It Too

So what’s the answer? A fairly simple two-step approach:

  1. Create your editorial calendar, and plan to use it.
  2. Be prepared to blow it all to hell on a moment’s notice.

Now, see, that’s not so hard, is it?

How do you create an editorial calendar in the first place?

You can use just about any tool you like. I tend to brainstorm old school, with pen and paper.

Then, once I’ve firmed it up, I take the list digital. I use Circus Ponies Notebook, which is an amazing piece of software that everyone ought to try at least once. (Alas for you PCs out there, it’s only for Macs and iPads. But there are other versions of the same kind of app, of course – OneNote is one that I’m aware of.)

But if you’re putting Principle #1 (Free is Better) into use? Then how about a plain text file? (Seriously, these plain text files are SO much more useful than they might appear to be initially. Plus every PC and every Mac has a plain text editor available already. No additional cost, no learning curve. Beautiful.)

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Decide on your timeframe for your calendar. I suggest doing this monthly, because that’s enough time to give you the Big Picture of the direction the blog takes, but not so far into the future that it starts to seem ridiculous.
  2. Within that time frame, list out the dates you’re planning to publish.I’m shooting for a massive six-day-a-week schedule on this blog, but on others, maybe two or three times a week is sufficient. Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s a schedule you can live with. There’s nothing worse than a blog that announces it publishes three times a week but you don’t find any recent posts over the past month. It’s just internally inconsistent, and it makes people think you’re not trustworthy. Not fair, I know, but them’s the breaks.
  3. Write down topics next to the dates. Don’t think too hard about this, just write down general ideas. Don’t flesh it out yet — that’s not what the calendar is about. It’s just to keep you organized and help you maintain a firm grasp on the Big Picture of your blog.
  4. Once you’ve got the month’s blog posts written down, take a critical look at the list. Look for patterns and connections. Maybe you jotted down three or four post topics that are all related: does it make sense to reorder them, so that the overview post comes first, then the detailed “how-to” post comes next, followed by the troubleshooting post? How far apart should they come? Think about your readers here — they’re gonna need some time to implement your fantabulous advice, so maybe you want to spread these posts out over the month.
  5. Reorder the posts as you like. (Here a digital list comes in handy, ’cause it makes it easier to edit.)

That’s it.

One Step Further With the Blog Notebook Tool

Now, if you like, you can take that list and start to expand the ideas in another file, or another page in your Notebook. One page = one post topic.

And then you can start to actually draft the posts right there on that page. Compose them offline and then you can copy and paste. Makes it easier to stay on task when you don’t have the whole wide wonderful Internet right there, ready to distract you.

I usually compose a week’s worth of posts ahead of time on Saturday. On Sunday, I upload the posts to my blog, insert and format the images, and schedule them to post on a daily basis automatically (which is awesome, ’cause I am the world’s worst for forgetting stuff, which is another reason why I have to be extra-careful with my routines in the morning, by the way).

Now you’ve got your calendar for the month. You have your topics, and you know you can come back to them and reorder, revise, refine, and expand them at will.

And when something jaw-dropping happens (which it always will, given the presence of Charlie Sheen in the world), you can take advantage of that. Just write your inspired post, and bump off that day’s topic to the next posting date. Or move it to the next month. Or whatever.

Inspiration Cultivation Does Not Require Chaos

Inspiration will come to you at odd moments. (Another reason why I love the whole Notebook approach to managing my blog — I can just jot down the awesome ideas on a separate page, and keep track of them, then review them when I do my calendars for suggestions.)

And yes, you do need to remain flexible enough to take advantage of those moments. But that’s not incompatible with employing an editorial calendar.

To the contrary: in my experience, the two work together quite awesomely.

Which camp do you fall in? Here’s a challenge: try the other approach, just for a week. See how it feels, what kind of new stuff it triggers. Then give my middle-road approach a try, if you like.

Let me know how it works for you.

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