25 March 2014

7 Takeaways from Better Blogging Training

An opportunity to receive coaching from expert writers and bloggers in our Nation's Capital? Sign me up!  Actually, the opportunity required me to apply, so in December just before Christmas, I sent my application and by January learned I was accepted for a one day blogging training for educators from around the country.  Bellwether Education Partners hosted the intense full day training last week at the Sofitel at Lafayette Square.  We received interactive writing coaching and participated in a seminar on marketing and social media, all with renowned authors from organizations such as The Atlantic, The Daily Caller, RealClearPolitics, Bellwether Education Partners, Bully Pulpit Interactive, and Inside Higher Ed.  The coaches were direct, honest, and extremely knowledgeable.

Spring 2013

Here are my top 7 takeaways from the day--

1.  Dedicate time each day to writing.
As an educator and writer, I instinctively know this.  But, do I do it?  Matt Lewis from The Daily Caller walked us through photographic day in his life, starting with his morning coffee and writing.  Write at a time of day when you're at your best and take frequent walk breaks before publishing anything.

2.  Dedicate 50% of your writing time to promoting your writing.
Again, this one was from Lewis.  He suggested shamelessly promoting your work--to get it out there and read by many because it sometimes takes tweeting it 3 or 4 times before the story catches on.  This one is hard for me and for many other educators I know because we're not used to "bragging" about our work.  Plus, I've personally found it annoying when someone tweets the same link so many times it feels like I'm being spammed.  Guess I'll have to figure out how to strike a balance between self-promotion and spamming people.

3. Read. Read. Read.
All of the writers at the training told us we need to be reading all the time to be better writers, to find ideas for stories, and to be aware of what's happening in the world.  We can also capitalize on timely content for our own blogs.  Carl Cannon from RealClearPolitics told us we should also be reading our own work aloud all the time, multiple times, and always before we press publish. 

4.  Write interesting headlines and ledes.
We received small group and one-on-one coaching for headline and lede writing.  They gave us a fake press release and asked us to write in response to it for our own blogs.  My first stab received feedback of "boring." I realized I'm not incredibly fast with my writing either because I spend so much time thinking about it before writing about it.  Eleanor Barkhorn shared a few tips with us telling us to "draw our reader in and not to mislead, annoy, talk down to, or otherwise turn off a reader from reading."  Further, she said it's best to be straightforward and offer a headline that tells readers what they're going to get if they click. 

5.  Tell stories.
So much for David Coleman's statement that nobody gives a sh__about our stories.  In fact, people care very much about stories, and we have to use them effectively and embed them into our arguments and expository writing when blogging. According to Carl Cannon, part of sharing a story includes "making sure people on the other side of an issue recognize their argument in your characterization of their position." We can do this with stories.

6.  Know your content.
Cannon shared a Joel Garreau quote with us--"I was there & this is no sh__" Really, better writing happens when you're part of whatever you're writing about, so if you're trying to write about an event you didn't attend, you're likely to have poor content, and as Hemingway said--"readers are bullshit detectors."  Part of knowing your content means you can become known as a go-to source on something, too. This way if there's a major event happening, people will say "I can't wait to read Learning to Muse to hear what Renee thinks about innovative school design or effective teaching strategies" (or whatever your area of expertise is).

7.  Be obsessed.
 Given that I'm rather passionate about education, this shouldn't be too difficult.  I'm already obsessed with learning in ways that make sense and push on traditional boundaries.  Bully Pulpit Interactive led this section of our day on social media and branding.  This was the toughest part of the day for me, but it was also intriguing to learn about branding, marketing, SEOs--all relatively new topics for me, given my background in education for the past fifteen years. Blogging, however, has brought these topics more front and center for me because I do want my blog to be great, so that means I have to pay attention to my audience and I have to help the internet find my content by adding tags and using keywords.  I also need to organize my content in ways that make sense to my readers (something you might notice I've been working on more lately).  If you have any tips or feedback--feel free to share.

On my way home from this fully exhausting day, I downloaded another e-book on blogging.  This one, titled "How to Blog for Profit without Selling Your Soul," was interesting and I finished it quickly.  I'm not really trying to blog for profit, but I did learn many ideas similar to the ones suggested in this training that should help me continue improving as a blogger.