How I write a blog post

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Orlagh Shanks
Orlagh Shanks

We requested a guest post from 2018 #bestPRblogs winner Orlagh Shanks. She’s reluctant to present herself as an expert – but you can see from this the care and the craft that lies behind her blog.

I guess before I start, I should give a little background into how long I’ve been blogging. If I begin with the first bit of writing/’reporting’ I uploaded onto the World Wide Web back in 2011, then it would be seven long and unsuccessful years. But I only ever fully committed to blogging when I created my Orlagh Claire site which celebrated its two year anniversary this month.

In those short two years I have achieved so much more than the previous five I spent creating blogs left, right and centre. A few months ago I even won PR Place’s #BestPRBlogs competition! If you want the full (very long) back-story on my blogging history, then you can check that out here.

I’m going to go through the entire process from start to finish: this is what works for me and my thought process, and may or may not work for you. Every writer is different and has a different way of doing things, but this is how I do it.

The Blog Post Idea – where does it come from?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t sit down at an empty WordPress ‘New Post’ template and be struck with something to write about. I don’t write blog posts just for content purposes or because it’s been a few days since I last posted. Quality over quantity, always.

The reason I usually write a blog post is because I’ve seen, read or heard something that interested me, sparked an emotion in me or made me feel like I wanted to give my opinion on it. Other times I’ll write blog posts that I think will help people (mainly students).

If I go through something – like applying for placements – and find there’s not much online to help students like me, then I’ll write it myself. I like to help others through what I’ve experienced myself.

Sometimes if I’m feeling homesick, unmotivated or strongly opinionated on something close to home, I’ll write a personal blog post. I don’t write too many of these as I don’t like to personally overshare online. But there are times that I find it therapeutic, getting things off my chest in the form of a blog post. While I was on placement, most of my posts were quite personal as I was sharing my London journey with every detail of my placement year, working in PR. It was quite like an online diary and I really enjoyed writing them.

Mostly my ideas for blog posts however, come from something in the news, or something that I’ve seen or read about that I feel needs to be talked about. I need to feel inspired and passionate before I sit down to write. Otherwise I will be sat staring at a blank screen for hours.

The environment I work in

This is also an important factor for me when it comes to writing blog posts – my surroundings. 99% of the time I am sat at my laptop in the evening that soon turns into the ‘wee hours’ and most of the time I don’t even notice the sun going down. I’ll resurface a few hours into writing and realise I’m sitting in complete darkness, the laptop screen being the only source of light in the room. Then I’ll realise I’ve spent the past four hours writing and wonder why I’m not halfway through a draft of my own novel. I’ll also realise that I’ve forgotten to eat – seriously it happens.

My writing set-up usually looks like this: laptop on desk or knee, glass of Diet Coke on the side (constantly re-filled throughout writing), Spotify playing in the background (sometimes I have to stop to sing/perform) and phone within reach for constant distraction. I can’t concentrate when it’s quiet. Weird, I know, but I can’t. No matter what I’m doing, I always need background noise.

I feel I do my best work at night-time and you will usually find me at 1am, head stuck in my laptop screen, typing away like there’s no tomorrow. Then I’ll re-read what I wrote the next morning and wonder if English is actually my first language.

The idea is always there but the sentence structure usually isn’t. I mostly find I’m trying to say too much at once and want to get it all down before I forget something.

So the setting behind most of my blog posts: night-time, Diet Coke and music.

The writing part

Word vomit. That’s all I can think to call it. Once the idea is placed, I’m at my laptop and high on caffeine, my fingers don’t stop typing. I start off with an intro about why I’m writing about this certain topic and what I hope to get across. I then try to start at the beginning with the facts, throw in some (many) personal opinions or anecdotes and go off on many tangents in the next few paragraphs before ending with a conclusion on what the post was originally planned to be about.

I try to throw little quips in here and there to keep my readers entertained (I like to think I can garner a chuckle out of a few people) by being sarcastic or hypocritical. If you know me then you’ll know that sarcasm is my middle name and I like to get my personality across in my blog posts.

How would I describe my style of writing? I guess it’s kind of a story-telling style. I want to keep the post entertaining so I don’t include anything that would make a reader fall asleep or leave the post. I hope I do anyway. I think that’s why I add in so many personal stories and thoughts of my own. I see my blog as my own creation, so I should be able to say what I think and not be afraid to give my own opinion.

My blog posts are quite conversational. I write my blog posts like I’m talking to someone. I ask questions, don’t include too many long words or use slang and colloquialisms – is that a long word? When writing my posts, I always think about the reader. I picture my blog as a letter to one person, informing them of something that interested me, angered me or excited me. Kind of like ‘Have you heard this?! Well here’s what I think about it.’

When I first go to write a blog post, there are times when I feel so strongly that I have to use the voice recorder on my phone to record my thoughts because I wouldn’t be able to get them down on paper quick enough. I’ll have so many thoughts that I’ll start off with bullet points of things I want to cover in the blog post so that I can follow a structure and not forget anything.

In school we were always taught to start off with a ‘plan’ but I thought this was a waste of time and never bothered. Now I get it. The bullet points usually end up as my headings so I can write in sections which makes the blog post flow better when I’m writing it. I get as much as I can out of my system right until I think I’ve finished and covered everything I wanted to. Then the most important process comes into play.

The editing process

I enjoy this part a lot. I feel like the editor of a magazine or newspaper when someone submits an article, making changes here, there and everywhere. I used to think there wasn’t much work involved with blogging. You write something and hit publish, maybe taking an hour tops. How wrong was I? It takes me an hour to write my first few paragraphs, never mind the editing, adding photos, links, tags, categorising, checking SEO, featured image, banner image, I could go on.

I usually write my blog post then preview what it would look like on my actual blog in a new tab. This is when I really nit-pick with a fine-tooth comb and go back and forth between the preview and editing page, constantly making little changes when I notice mistakes or want to change a few sentences. Then when I think I’m happy with it, I’ll add in my images and think of a catchy title.

When it comes to the title I always think ‘Would I click onto this to read more?’ Without going all out click-bait (personal pet hate of mine), I make it sound intriguing while covering what the blog post will be about.

After about five or six hours and I think it’s ready, I still won’t hit publish. I’ll wait. I’ll read the post again the next day and make more changes. I’ll then go and leave it for a few hours and come back to it and read it again. I always read it on the preview option, so I can see what it looks like from a reader’s point of view. I usually won’t publish a post until two days after first writing it.

The added extras

When I’m finally ready to let the blog post out into the world, I start on the extras that make a blog post complete. I’ll add in my main images, choose the banner image and featured image. I’ll then select the category, check the URL and edit it for keywords. I’ll add in tags and change the snippet that appears on Google searches under the blog post title. I’ll also link the post to my LinkedIn and Twitter pages and edit the text to go along with the link.

I will also do a last minute SEO check to see if there are any red flags that I need to change or improve. This could include moving the keyword to the beginning of the first paragraph, making sentences shorter or splitting paragraphs. I find the extras part the most mundane. I like the writing part, but there’s so much more to do on top of this to make a good blog post.

Hitting the ‘Publish’ button

I always get a little nervous when it’s time to publish. I’m putting my thoughts, opinions and feelings out into the world and I always feel a little vulnerable when it comes to that moment. You never know who could take offence, take what you say the wrong way or give you negative feedback.

Most times when I write a blog post, I like to be controversial and spark debate and conversation. When I hit the ‘Publish’ button on these posts I’m usually on the phone to my dad straight away asking him to read it and make sure it’s ok, not causing offence or if it has any spelling/grammar mistakes. It’s easy to read your own work one hundred times and still not notice a simple repeated word or wrong letter.

I feel like I do need a lot of reassurance when it comes to my blog posts as I wouldn’t class myself as a great writer – I only write because I enjoy it and it’s therapeutic for me. I didn’t do English at A Level or for a degree, nor did I ever enjoy the subject when I was at school. I was never told that I had a talent for writing in those days, but I was always great at spelling. I did, however, read books like they were going out of fashion. The attic in my house is ready for caving in because I won’t part with any book that I’ve read. Maybe this is where my story-telling style comes from.

The more I read, the more I feel l’m learning and I think the same can be said for blog posts. I love reading blog posts and a lot of my ideas come from reading other people’s blogs – if I have a different opinion or take on something they have written about. One thing I believe we can never say is that we are ‘bored’. There is so much information out there about the world which we have right at our fingertips. Stay curious. Because if we stay curious, we will keep learning and keep reading and always have something to talk about. In other words, always have something to blog about.

Promoting the post

This is something I’m not very good at.

When I publish my posts, they are linked to my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts so the links appear there. That’s about as far as my promotion goes. I’ll always add the ‘#PRStudent‘ hashtag to appear in that feed, but other than that, not much else. I don’t like to overshare or push my posts in people’s faces. If they want to read what I write, then they know where to look.

I mainly let the keywords do the promoting for me as a lot of my views come from Google searches. I rather like it this way as the people that are reading my blog are actively looking for this topic or answers to their questions and I feel in this way I’m helping and making a difference. Which is why I do what I do.

Maybe I should get a little better at self-promotion but at the moment I’m happy with how my blog is going. It’s a hobby of mine, not a full-time job and I always try to remember this. It’s my little space of the internet where I talk about what I think and I just hope that the people who end up on my blog enjoy what they read and take something away when they leave.