There are two kind of writers: planners and pantsers.
Planners (or, sometimes, plotters, if you’re talking about fiction) already know everything they’re going to say, at least to some extent. They know in advance what their topics are going to be. They’ve already written at least a few test headlines. They may have even jotted down some notes or subheads for the post. They already know what keywords they’re gunning for and they already know what sort of call to action they want at the end. They do this because generally a good blog post contains these elements.
Pantser is shorthand for the phrase flying by the seat of your pants, which (for my ESL friends) is an English idiom for improvisation. So if you fly by the seat of your pants, then you’re a pantser, see?
Neither way of writing is better than the other when the end result is good. However, if the end result is not as good as it should be (no, you’re not a special exception, I’m talking about you), however, pantsing is more likely to blame than planning, in my opinion.
Why Pantsing Leads to Bad Blog Posts
I know full well that you’re probably a pantser when it comes to blog post writing, because most people are. So you’re probably feeling a little defensive, right now.
Hang in there with me until the end. I’m here to help you, not attack you.
If you like to write when inspiration strikes, you may not be thinking about keywords for search engine optimization. Remember, there are only two ways people will ever get to your website: referral (they see a link on a web page, email or social media post) or search. A blog post with no keywords in it that relate to the topic is like a room with no doors or windows.
Pantser posts can ramble and not have a strong introduction, because you wrote your way into warming up to your own topic. Carried by your own inspiration (or simply pressed for time), you may not have taken the time to edit your post for clarity, economy, and impact. You probably didn’t take the time to read your post aloud to yourself to try and catch awkward phrasing that seemed fine when you were writing it.
And because you didn’t really know where were going when you began writing, your pantser post has no call to action or you just stapled the good ol’ “What do you think?” onto the end for lack of anything better.
All this makes pantsing sound like a Very Bad Thing.
It’s not. Not at all. But these are pantsing pitfalls (that sounds like a terrible television show, doesn’t it? Pantsing Pitfalls). And if you’re not careful, they’ll get you.
Planning posts is not the answer for you, and even if it were, most people have a really hard time trying to be something they’re not. Planning has its own problems.
The Problems with Planning Posts
It’s possible to overplan: you have all your posts written and planned in advance, scheduled in WordPress to be published on a certain date. Your promotional tweets and Facebook posts are scheduled in advance in HootSuite, ready to go.
And then something unexpected happens.
Could be news that affects your industry. Could be news that affects your state, province, or country. Could be something that happens just to you but it changes your world and the best thing to do is to write about it now, in the moment, and publish. To do that you may have to change the publication settings for other posts and in your social media tools. You’ve already been hit by a surprise situation, and now you have an additional mad scramble thrown in.
For example, suddenly everyone was very sensitive about gun violence and portrayals of violence in general after the Sandy Hook mass shooting. It’s entirely possible that the scheduled publication of some blog posts and social media posts happened while the blogger was asleep or traveling. Now that person looks like an insensitive boor and loses readers and followers.
Other issues of timing can happen: unbeknownst to you, another blog in your niche publishes a very similar article on the same day or the previous day, making you look like a copycat. Or your post is suddenly factually incorrect because of a new event that happens in your field.
Another problem that can happen with planning is that your content feels less lively and fresh. At worst, your posts can feel plodding and contrived. This is especially noticeable as soon as you switch media from writing to audio or video. Can you read your writing aloud and have it sound as natural as if you were speaking on the fly? Most people can’t. Unless you have a decent teleprompter for your videos or you’ve memorized a script, looking like you’re reading off of something in your video is a disappointing experience for the viewer.
Know which One you Are, but Borrow from the Other
The primary goal of great content is to be consumed by as many of the right people as possible: it needs to be shared by people and found by search. Secondarily, those people need to take action.Great content has goals and it achieves those goals. The primary goal is to be consumed by as many of the right people as possible. To that end, it needs to be shared by people and found by search. Secondarily, those people need to take action. Great content has a goal for the reader to accomplish which you want to align with your goals for your online business: getting leads and sales. It doesn’t matter if you planned it or pantsed it as long as your content makes these goals.
If you’re a pantser, try these tips:
- Write when inspiration strikes but do not publish immediately (unless you’re dealing with current events and timing is important). You still want to have a buffer of unpublished posts you can fall back on and you can still publish them at a later date. The best thing to do is forget all about the post for a few days.
- Come back to your post after a few days and look at it critically: does it have a strong beginning? Does it have the right keywords in the headline and body text? Did you link to any of your other posts? Does it have a call to action? What is the goal of the post?
- Edit your post by including the missing crucial elements and cutting excess verbiage.
- Give it the “read aloud” test: can you read it aloud without tripping over your own words? If you cannot, chances are other readers will struggle, too.
If you’re a planner, try these tips:
- You’ve already put a lot of work into the structure of a post, so when you start the actual writing, kick your inner editor down the basement stairs and leave her there. Just write. If you have difficulty with this, use a timer so you have write as fast as you can before it runs out.
- Keep an inspiration journal. Constantly take notes and jot down ideas which will be the seeds to grow well-structured blog posts that won’t feel forced or contrived.
- Allow your “inner pantser” to come out and play. Don’t be a prisoner to your pre-planning. As you begin writing you’ll often have new realizations. Run with them, do not suppress them. You may have to change what you had planned, and that’s fine if it makes the post stronger.
- Try less linear methods of organizing your ideas. Instead of outlining, try mind mapping. Instead of overstructuring a post, try telling a story to teach the same thing. Instead of using text, try audio, video, an interview, or an infographic.
- Pay attention to current events and don’t miss out on an opportunity to take advantage of them (or avoid looking like an ass).
The Best of Both Worlds
Nobody is ever just one thing or another. You know if you’re mostly a planner or a pantser, but that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow elements from the other camp:
- Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. You know when inspiration strikes for me? Every day at 6am when I sit down to write. Keep a journal to jot down ideas as they come to you and put them on your editorial calendar or create a buffer of pre-written posts for that one day when you realize inspiration is not going to strike (or you get the flu). There is a whole issue of blogging workflow here, which I am addressing in the ebook I’m currently working on for you. But for now, I’ll just say you want to capture ideas and be able to use them when you need to, so you have inspiration on command.
- Alternatively, when inspiration strikes, don’t write the whole post. Only write ideas for headlines and subheads. Set it aside to incubate and put it in your editorial calendar for later publication. When you go to write the post in full, you’ll have some distance from it. You’ll have new ideas so your edits and additions will make it much stronger.
- Plan out your keywords and call to action but go about post content in a more unusual way such as telling a story or using video.
- Practice free-writing and developing your “voice” as a writer so that planned posts don’t feel over-written.
Spill! Which one are you?
Which kind of blogger are you? What can you learn from the other camp?