Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

A Helpful Writing Exercise to Focus Your Blog Content

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Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’m getting a lot of questions about blogging these days.

Friends and strangers are all emailing me, asking the same thing:

Am I doing this right?

Most of the time, unfortunately, the answer is no. But not for the reasons you might think:

  • Not because they’re not good writers.
  • Not because they don’t have a good design.
  • Not because they aren’t promoting their work and getting their name out there.

The simple reason a lot of blogs struggle to succeed is because of lack of focus. Many bloggers haven’t taken the time to develop a unique purpose for their blog, and as a result they’re just writing — with little thought as to what they’re hoping to accomplish.

Hence, the frustration and insecurity. They’re moving in a direction, but not sure where they’re actually headed.

This a natural tendency (confession: I did this for four years). But eventually, it’s time to get serious. And every serious blogger eventually moves away from a lack of focus and starts to tackle blogging more intentionally.

So what do I tell these people?

I share with them one easy exercise that has helped thousands of people (I walk them through this lesson and others in my free blogging course).

Before getting started

My basic rule of thumb for writing (especially blogging) is this:

The more you narrow your focus, the more you broaden your audience.

Most bloggers think they have a focus for their blog. They don’t. Really, all they have is a subject.

It’s important to identify three core areas of focus for your blog to succeed. Here’s a nifty exercise I learned from a speaking seminar. It was intended to help us write a speech, but it works for writing, too.

Before you begin writing, consider your subject (what you want to write about), then boil it down to a theme (your specific angle and area of focus), then an objective (what you want to accomplish).

Subject

The subject is the broadest area of your writing. It can be stated in a word or two, probably, but most bloggers struggle to identify it. In order to find your subject, try asking yourself:

  • What am I passionate about?
  • In what topic do I have expertise or a desire to learn?
  • What could I write about for a year without running out of ideas or energy?

Exercise: Spend 10 minutes brainstorming one-word answers to the above questions. Don’t take too long. Let intuition guide you. Then, pick one (and only one).

Example: Writing

Theme

The theme is a narrower version of your subject. It’s like a subset of your main topic — a particular area of concentration. To find it, ask yourself:

  • How can I break this subject down into its various components?
  • What do I want to concentrate on?
  • Is there a specific manner in which I want to attack this issue? What will my writing “voice” be? (e.g. Humorous, sarcastic, practical, anecdotal, etc.)

Exercise: Spend 15-30 minutes mind-mapping or listing out key phrases that describe various angles of your topic. Then, pick the one that makes the most sense and immediately inspires 10 writing ideas.

Example:
How writers can use the Internet to build a platform for their writing.

Objective

The objective is the main takeaway; it’s the goal. If everything else fails, this is what you want your blog to do. If you’re not sure what yours might be, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I want to accomplish with my writing?
  • What impression do I want to leave?
  • What’s my goal? How do I measure it?

Exercise: Spend 5-10 minutes answering the above questions. Think hard about what you really want to do. Wanting visitors is not enough. What do you want to do with the traffic once you get it?

Think about what would make the time you’re spending blogging worth it. It should be an actionable verb.

Is it making money? Increasing your influence? Growing in authority?

Write it down.

Example: To establish credibility as a writer and land freelance writing gigs.

As you begin to practice this exercise (if you’re not doing it already), you’ll find that it’s easier to come up with ideas for specific posts. While it seems very limiting, it’s actually quite freeing. It’ll also make it easier for you to connect with your readers and call them to action.

Ironically, the more you focus on a single objective, the more possibilities for writing emerge.

It’s counter-intuitive, but it works.

Recommended Resource: If you need getting started with a blog topic or theme, check out my online course Tribe Writers. It’s helped over 1000 writers start a blog and find an audience.

Does your blog or writing have a focus? I’d love any feedback you have. Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. Check out my new book, The In-Between. To get exclusive updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://www.warriorshepherd.com/blog Dave Hearn

     Looks familiar… ;^)   This is a great exercise and I’ll be doing it today.  Thanks again for a great informational and inspirational blog.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Thanks, Dave! I look forward to seeing you apply these concepts and the impact it has on your blog. Let me know if you have any questions.

  • http://davidsantistevan.com David Santistevan

     Very good points, Jeff. I think a lot of writers encounter resistance doing exercises like this because they have deadlines or just want to publish something. But what happens if you don’t take time to think critically about your content is it gets watered down and unfocused. I try and do a similar exercise to this once  a week. Indispensable. Thanks.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, David. You’re right — it’s a tension between planning and shipping. I’ve found that a little more intentionality at the beginning of your blog’s lifespan can actually empower you to ship more often.

  • http://shawnsmucker.com Shawn Smucker

    Good stuff Jeff. I need to think through some of these concepts. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Thanks, Shawn! Let me know if you have any questions.

  • http://jonfulk.posterous.com Jon Fulk

    This is exactly what my poor little blog needs me to do! Thanks for breaking it down!

    • http://about.me/jeffgoins Jeff Goins

      yeah, man. no prob.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Glad to hear it, Jon!

  • http://www.mustardseedyear.com Jason Wert

     Duh……..

    Seriously…good stuff, Jeff.  

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Guess I asked for that, huh?

  • http://thewholedangthing.wordpress.com Ben Emerson

    I notice that when I encounter blogs where the title has something like “random thoughts” or something like that, I am less likely to want to read. I want to know what the blog is about so I know what I am getting myself into.

    I guess that could potentially make some people not interested because they don’t care about the topic but you probably aren’t really looking to reach out to them anyway.

    So yes, I think this is great stuff. Narrow your focus and find broadened appeal. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      That’s right, Ben. You can’t write for everyone, but you CAN write for someone. The irony is that when you try to write for everyone, you end up writing for no one. Everybody wants to feel special and understood; that’s what you accomplish when you focus your writing.

  • Tracy

     Good stuff, Jeff.  Are you sure you weren’t a business process consultant in a former life?  

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Positive! I’m terrible at process, but this is a must-do!

  • kevin

    Great stuff, Jeff.  Definitely helpful.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Kevin!

  • http://www.marianneworley.com Marianne Worley

     This is very interesting and helpful Jeff. I am just about to start writing my very first guest post, so I’ll be sure to test out this technique. I know I already do some of these things, but not in an organized way! :-)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Thanks, Marianne! Hope it helps.

  • http://www.messiahmom.wordpress.com Kristinherdy

    I don’t think I want to be a serious blogger. I might have nailed down my own coffin with that, but I don’t want to be a slave to my content. Sometimes I want to be funny. Sometimes, I have a tender piece in me. Other times, I need to share something God has laid on my heart or I might burst. Still other times, I want to try something new.

    I want my blog to be a place that challenges the unbeliever to believe and the believer to become a disciple and the disciple to step up and DO something. But, I don’t want to lose sight of why I created the blog – and I think it was about capturing the little things and keeping myself honest about my spiritual growth.

    Still, I think these are great ideas for serious bloggers. I just don’t know that I am. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

       Hey Kristin – I didn’t phrase that very well. I didn’t mean “serious blogger” – I meant someone who is serious about blogging, who cares deeply about connecting with their readers and connecting them with their content.

      I should’ve used “dedicated blogger” maybe. I think humor and levity are important to communicating with your audience.

      It sounds like you already do a lot of that intuitively.

      If this helps organize your thoughts, great. If not, no sweat. Use what works. Blogging is the medium, as is your content. The end is connection. I’m trying to connect people with ideas, so this process often works for me. Thanks for the comment!

      • http://www.messiahmom.wordpress.com Kristinherdy

        I can understand that. I heard from a seasoned journalist once that journalism was supposed to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I adopted that long ago as the mantra for my blog. It’s not all that specific, but it’s a good measure of how I’ve made those connections.

        Thank you!

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          That’s a great theme!

  • Jan Perley

    I blog about animal species identification; I choose an animal, identify 2 or three keys by which to recognize each species or subspecies, do a post on anomalies of that animal, and sometimes add a fun video. Is that narrow enough or too narrow? I almost never talk about myself, so maybe it’s not personal enough? (www.ispyanimals.com)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Hah! Well, that’s certainly focused enough, Jan. (I’m thinking your the exception to my generalization about “most bloggers.”) That said, it would be good to be more personal. People want to relate to other people. I’ll be sharing about “voice” in another post soon.

      Thanks,
      Jeff

  • http://www.thechurchofnopeople.com Matt @ The Church of No People

     Hey Jeff, great post!  I suppose I’ve done just about all of these steps, though probably not in that formal of a thought process.  But it is really important that bloggers do something like this.  “Musings,” “Ramblings,” and “Randomness” are not themes, and are practically guaranteed that I won’t visit a blog that much if it has one of those words in its title.  Bloggers need to think of themselves like newspaper columnists of yesteryear.  No one hires an editorialist to write about just anything under the sun.  People know what they are going to read from Ann Landers or Billy Graham or whoever.

    I think the one exercise that really focused my writing was asking myself “what value am I hoping a reader gets from this?”  Am I trying to entertain, inform, inflame, inspire, persuade, piss off?  If a post doesn’t do any of those reasonably well, it’s not a good blog post and shouldn’t be written.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Exactly. Well put, Matt.

  • http://douglasryoung.net Douglas Young

    Thanks for the Stumbleupon reference of this for me. I look forward to reading the most in more depth tonight, and working on the exercise.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Doug. Let me know your thoughts. I want it to make sense and add value. Feel free to disagree.

  • http://allyspotts.com Ally Spotts

    Well, I can identify with the people who are asking you, “Am I doing this right?” because that is pretty much what I find myself wondering all the time. 

    I mentioned this to you on Twitter, Jeff, but one of the things I have
    done is allow my “focus” to be dictated by reader interest, which has
    been both a positive and frustrating experience.

    It’s positive because
    its inspiring to see conversations come to life in response to something I have written. At the same time it’s frustrating
    because sometimes the subjects that are most interesting to me don’t generate much reader interest.

    I try to read, learn, shift and alter my approach as often as appropriate and possible, but if I’m honest I have to admit that the learning curve is steep and sometimes I feel like washing my hands of all it and saying, “Ah! All I want to do is write!”

    Ha, does that even make any sense?

    I love that you are challenging me to think about my own objective as a writer. Not that I haven’t thought about it before, but if I’m walking away from your post with one challenge, that is it.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Great. That’s the most important part. And I’m right there with you!

  • http://www.AnnieAndre.com Annie Andre

    Hi Jeff,
    It’s only natural to feel that nagging self doubt. Everyone has their tehnique. I cast a wide net and then start narrowing.  Trial and error. Moving quickly. I don’t always know what i’m doing until after i’ve tried it and then i know.  Sometimes when i think things out in my mind and do them, they lead me in a different direction.. Maybe i’m just scatter brained. I just feel comfortable experimenting and failing and getting up to try again…
    Thanks for another wise POST. :) 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I think you have it right – just keep hacking.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I think you have it right – just keep hacking.

  • http://twitter.com/ladyketo Ladyketo

    This was super helpful.  Thanks Jeff!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re welcome.

  • http://twitter.com/ladyketo Ladyketo

    I’ve just sat down and completed the exercise.  It has totally connected the dots for me.  I’m excited.  Thanks again!  Woo, two comments for the price of one blog.  Love it.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Cool. Glad it helped!

  • http://peterpaluska.com Peter Paluska

    Excellent stuff, Jeff! I am saving this one for rereading later, and will sink my writing teeth into the exercise.

    Thanks!

    Peter

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Let me know how it goes!

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t believe you, until I went through and answered all these prompts. Now I believe you. My brain is POPPING with ideas. I mean, POPPING

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Mandy – just read your write-up. Great job! You really applied this well. Thank you for taking the time to do it. I hope that it benefits you.

      • Anonymous

        More than that, I hope it benefits “my ideal reader!” Thanks for stopping by, Jeff. :D

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          definitely.

  • TheMorningstarProject

    I found your blog through ProBlogger, both this post and “Finding your Voice” were extremely helpful. Simple, straight-forward tips. I’m a lifestyle blogger so I’ve fallen into the trap of just writing about things that come up, which is not the best plan.  In fact it means I don’t have a clear plan or mission, which doesn’t make a successful blog. Thanks for this, my writer’s block is already disappearing.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Glad to hear it!

  • Jessica Paterik

    Jeff- Great post!!  I’ve been charged with helping the team I work with start a company blog.  This article & the “Finding your Voice” article have been incredibly helpful in finding a frame for each person.  Thanks for writing practical steps that banish the terror of a blank page :)

  • http://backintothecave.wordpress.com/ Travis Adams

    I used to read and write a lot, but I had gotten away from it all. I decided to start a blog as a way to get back into writing. Because I’m new to blogging, I really don’t have enough knowledge or experience to contest your ideas, but my intuition and my desires as they relate to my blog won’t allow me to fully embrace them.

    My intention is to make it a sort of lifestyle blog, posting reviews of of my son’s toys, recipes ideal for busy families, book and movie reviews, but at the same time I have a passion for politics and I’m an avid sports fan. What’s the thumb rule on “off-topic” posts?
    I’m most qualified to speak on politics (more specifically political theory) but that can often be very heady stuff and if I can be more enriching by writing on a good book than politics a certain week, I feel like I shouldn’t restrict myself.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Hey Travis. no rule really. just do what feels right and use your audience to gauge what’s appropriate.

    • Carole Caprice

      Well, I for one, would be interested in what you have to say about politics ~ it’s been a passion of mine too since I was about 7 believe it or not, and as the years have “learned me well”, my political affiliation has swung completely from one side of the spectrum to the other since then! (won’t tell you which way til I see a sample of your writing ;D

  • Pingback: Difficult Task for a Webby Over-Analyzer: Deciding on a Domain Name and Blogging Platform | eat it up

  • http://www.donnamerrilltribe.com/ Donna Merrill

    Thank you Jeff.  This post gave me a new perspective in writing my blogs.  I tend to go all over the place when I write and then have to do so much editing.  Following the steps above will surely help me.  This post is bookmarked and printed out so I can follow the details.  I appreciate you helping bloggers to be the best they can be in writing.
    Blessings,
    Donna

  • erind90

    My blog tends to be more my “ramblings” than anything focused, and I don’t plan on becoming a serious blogger anytime soon, but I’ve got this link bookmarked just in case I change my mind.  Thanks!

  • Annette Skarin

    I have most of this down…except writing the raw stuff…I keep tiptoeing around the edges of my blog (memoir) throwing out tidbits of who I am.  I’m a little stymied by my angst about – who’s going to finally notice that I’M A WRITER. I find myself lifting my hand and saying “Hey, out there, do you see me?” Your posts have encouraged me…and the fact that my story will help many people who, feel too imperfect to be accepted by their Maker, and find it hard to believe that grace (Jesus) is actually a free gift. I’ve been at the starting gate far too long. 

  • http://twitter.com/LMarni Marni Gallerneault

    This is practical and helpful. I definitely do not read those blogs that have ‘random musings’ and ‘stuff’ in their titles. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a bit spread out on my blog, even though it’s all defined (none of that rambling junk). I’ll use this exercise to help me find my focus!

  • Diana

    Jeff,

    Thank you for pulling all this information together and sharing it. As an up-and-coming writer I beleive it will help me tremendously to focus and get unstuck in my blog and in my salable writing projects. I especially like your statement that narrowing my focus will broaden my audience. I had not thought of it in those terms. It is this narrow focus that will help me to glean from the world around me, and my own experiences, only the things that will add value to the story rather then trying to tell the whole story, and getting frustrated.

    I appreciate what you are doing and look forward to the rest of the lessons.

  • http://www.theendfocus.com/ Wendy Brooks

    Well ironically my blog is entitled “The End Focus” – its about focusing on what really matters in life. I too am involved in international missions, and a common thread in all my posts is my faith in God. So although I could probably narrowing things down a bit, I’m not sure if I need to or not.

  • http://twitter.com/sarardell Sara Smith

    What happens when you know your subject, theme, and objective but you still can’t gain traction?

  • Lynn

    Hi Jeff,
    It’s so generous of you to send these free and informative lessons. I’m considering writing a blog, and so these posts are exceptionally helpful and timely for me. I will look forward to reading your other ideas. And, by the way, don’t be reticent to use words like foci! :-) A little pretentiousness never hurt anyone. Seriously, why must we dumb down our writing? Our lanugage is varied and nuanced and rich. You use it well.

  • Libby

    I am enjoying my writing more.  It’s exciting to hear someone else describe their writing experience.  Please don’t scold me but…shhhh,  I really am not a writer.  Not an English major ,(a payroll  tax administrator) but love writing and get compliments for it. I stumbled across you thru Donald M. and you have blessed me thru your testimony.  I’m reading “Wrecked” right now.  BTW, I do not write about taxes.   :)

  • A Adams

    Thanks for all of the great insight. I am one of many blogs and in the process of lasso-ing my many selves into one format, if that is at all possible. You have given me quite a bit to think about ~  exciting!  

  • Tourguidepenzance

    Just joined your blogging course.  Blogging is totally new to me and I have been thinking about it for a while for my new business.  The first session has really helped me to focus on what to write
    Thank you
    Anna

  • http://propreacher.com/ Brandon

    @jeffgoins:disqus
    Enjoying the lessons so far. Just getting going on my new blog. I’m focusing on preaching. Sharing my thoughts on how to engage people and not bore them with sermons and inspiring and equipping young preachers to preach better. Soaking up everything I can on blogging right now. Thanks
    propreacher.com

  • Jay Tyson

    only on lesson three but already i can see how important these ideas are. I have been a bit of a rambler but now I see its not even necessarily about dismissing your random thoughts but using them constructively within the framework to make them more accessible and cogent! Thanks

  • Carole Caprice

    Thanks so much Jeff for putting this together for us (at no charge, I might add! – very helpful for me at this time!)

    As another beginner here, I really needed help & guidance on
    how to get started & must say on the one hand, I’m pleased to know that, at
    least, the software side of it is a lil easier than I expected, but trying to
    pick just one subject is a little bit more challenging now that you’ve told us
    the focus needs to be pretty specific. My original thought was to create the
    blog as a “Comical Commentary Center” – sort of memoir-based comical stories on daily life & mishaps for the sheer entertainment of it, interspersed with my thoughts & perceptions on my areas of interest (Music/Musicians/Jazz,
    Art, Religion, Comedy/Comedians, and my writing focus – comical yet conscience-based Children’s books & TV/Screenplay Comedy scripts). I’m no expert on the writing formats yet, but with a few strong story lines in the works, I’m in the process of getting myself educated in those areas.

    So what would you recommend? Should I create a few different blogs – - one memoir-based, and the other focusing just on my writing goals for books & TV, or…. ???

  • Maria Fox&Arrow

    You sir, are brilliant! Thank you so much,

  • Juliette Nolan

    I love the idea of having a focus for my blog and I know that it will centre around the idea of helping women to heal by creating a spiritual legacy of love and wisdom for their children. This will be done via the process of creating a Memory Box in which they share of themselves, from the heart. Our true wealth lies in the lessons that we have learned, we become rich in the sharing of those lessons with future generations. Thanks for helping me hone my focus. Loving this course, thanks Jeff!

  • http://www.cloudstaff.com/downloads/contentmoderation Thelma Case

    This is a great post about blog content. The exercise is truly helpful in improving such. Thanks for sharing.

  • James Bradrick

    Jeff, just started your course and I’ve been blogging for about a year. That year got me to the point where I answered the questions in the lesson on focus. So now I know what I want to accomplish and what I want to write about (and study) to accomplish it. Thanks for helping out people who as yet aren’t able to afford expensive classes. When I’m ‘there’ I’ll return the favor.

  • http://sarahannehayes.com/ Sarah Anne Hayes

    Working on figuring this out while working through your Intentional Blogging series. And boy, is it hard! The three individual words I’ve been drawn to the most are faith, relationships, and stories. For me, these three things have always intertwined, so I’m working through how they all mix together to create an actual blog focus. Definitely gonna take some time, but I think it’ll be worth it. Thanks, Jeff!

  • Lis

    My theme is “be happy.” Less of a self-improvement blog and more of a get-off-your-rear-and-do-what-it-takes-to-be-happy blog. I prefer to highlight the positive outcomes of taking action rather than dwelling on statements affirming that we’re all broken (we are, but let’s not dwell, shall we?)

    Looking forward to more lessons!

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