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Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts

Blog Struggles badgeFor years, I’ve had a bunch of drafts sitting in my blog’s “draft box”, a list of posts at the top of my Write Post and Manage Posts panel that remind me of unfinished work. I’ve written reminders to you to clean out your post draft list once in a while, but I’m still as guilty of this procrastination as anyone.

It’s not just my drafts but my idea list that haunts my nights with the guilt of unfinished business. I have long lists of post title ideas and a few word summaries of things I thought of to blog about that were brilliant in the moment, but now, I have no idea what “WordPress Comes in Many Hat Colors” meant. It meant something at the time, and it’s a neat line, but what the heck does it mean now, three years later?

Still, I keep coming back to it, staring at that title on my list, thinking that one day the light bulbs will go off, trumpets will sound, and the brilliant reasoning behind such a title will flow into my brain and out my fingers. Until then, it’s blank, blank, blank, and I feel rather stupid.

Do you have this problem, too? I can’t be the only one.

As part of my ongoing series on Blog Struggles, discussing the hard work and challenges of blogging, I want to address this ode to procrastination that plagues all bloggers: ideas and drafts.

Making Your Notes Count

I’ve now stopped using the built-in WordPress draft feature unless I get stopped in the middle of editing a post before publishing. I was abusing it too much and the look of all those posts sitting there, staring at me, I couldn’t take it any more.

I write all my blog ideas down in my text editor, using techniques which I covered briefly in my series on converting a newsletter to a blog, introducing the text editor as a blogger’s best friend.

Example of text editor file of ideas separated by equal signsI store all my ideas in one text file per blog. Each one is divided by a row of equal signs (= = = = = ). Using the search for the equal signs, I can move from idea to idea to find one ready to work on and publish.

I stopped writing cute or snazzy blog post titles, left over clues of inspiration. As my WordPress hat example shows, it doesn’t work. Instead, I write everything I can think of about the topic at that moment, good or bad, notes, outlines, or full thoughts. When I run out of steam, I review it, add a little more, and then round it off with a row of equal signs.

It’s not about writing the whole post. It’s about capturing the essence of the idea, preserving the thoughts, the motivation, and the concept I want to convey. I know I’ll clean it up later, but for now, the magic of the thoughts in the moment must be preserved before they are lost to time and memories unclaimed.

When I return to that idea, a day, month, or year later, I find more than a few words for my brain to puzzle over. Instead, I find whole thoughts and ideas on the points I want to cover. I can now put my energy into writing the piece and not wracking my brain for the reasons I wanted to write about this subject in the first place, which, at least for me, involves a lot of self flagellation (what were you thinking – this is dumb – you are so stupid – useless, totally useless).

Not all of the parts and pieces will stay, as now I may have a new perspective and angle on the article. This is just part of the process. I might totally change my mind and approach the subject from a totally different point of view. I might not. I may enlarge upon the subject more, or shrink it down to its essence. I might even decide that with time, this isn’t as important an issue to me or my readers as it once was, and delete the idea. But at least I know what it was that I wanted to write about. No more hunting through my cobwebbed brain.

Instead of creating a to do list of posts to write on an idea list, turn your idea list into a crafted list of thoughts and ideas, not keywords and brilliant titles that will be lost once the creative moment passes.

Most of all, be nice to yourself. Even if you come back to your notes on a story idea and they don’t make sense, leave it and return later to see if it still makes sense – and stop beating yourself up if it never does. It can sit there, fermenting, doing no one harm, and when the light bulbs of inspiration return, it’s still waiting there for you to dig in and turn the fertilizer into a garden of a blog post.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network, and author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.

22 Comments

  1. Posted October 10, 2007 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    I just started a file like that this very day. I am about to clean out the WordPress drafts now. I can’t stand seeing them there either.

    Some posts do need to stew a while to get them right. With the text file I can add to my notes until I have the fully developed idea. Offline. Without waiting for pages to load and without wasting my bandwidth. I also noticed that if you tag a draft, which in some cases I did because they were part of a series, the drafts show up in the tag search. That is not good!

  2. Posted October 10, 2007 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    That’s why I don’t like keeping drafts, I often found that the longer they are there, the less likely I am to finishing it. The best posts are the ones where you finish in one go, but go back to fine tune it. Leaving it halfway, I often can’t keep the inspiration to finish it.

    Muses of personal blogging come and go. Unfortunately all the commentary posts I write about blogging depend on that muse as well. But when I think about it, not bad for someone who blogs almost every day.

  3. Posted October 10, 2007 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    I’ve got over 70 drafts… and given there are only a 100 or so posts on Blogging Fingers that is quite a few! This is big problem.

  4. Posted October 10, 2007 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    I started drafting in Google Docs while on the fly and having a post flying around in my head when I have no access to blog, ie: at my paying job. Thanks for expanding the ideas, because I too have drafts sitting in the Write screen that have no lightbulbs going off around it.

  5. Posted October 10, 2007 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    I only have about four drafts going right now, which is more than I’ve ever kept on WordPress. I typically just save new ideas in text files. Therefore, my desktop is covered in all these text files. It can drive a person crazy trying to find something.

    I really need to do a major cleanup of my desktop text files and consolidate them into one file.

  6. Posted October 10, 2007 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I definitely recognize these problems that arise from draft posts. I recently cleaned out the drafts from a collaborative blog I blog at, but it is so much harder to organize your own drafts.
    My fourteen draft posts vary from posts with no title and with just a short idea for a blog post to half written posts that I never come around to finish.
    I recently shifted my problem area to the draft section of my e-mail program that currently contains 31 drafts.

    I like your suggestion of keeping everything in one text file. I currently have seven Untitled.txt files at my desktop so something definitely has to change. Maybe I should try the “Kill Your Darlings” technique and get sorted.

  7. Posted October 10, 2007 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I just wrote a post on how I use Toodledo, a task list manager, to keep track of my writing ideas. I was having the problem of little bits of posts scattered all over the place that never went any farther. With a task list manager I can tag them and see what day I entered them without cluttering up my WordPress post manager.

  8. Posted October 10, 2007 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I think it’s all how you approach it. I find the drafts folder and the relatively new listing feature a great way to keep my thoughts organised and store posts that are timeless, ie. ready for insertion whenever I feel like it or if nothing else is going on that moves me. Everything’s kept in one place, I don’t have to cut and paste to post, I can move things around, and if it comes to that, I can simply hit delete and it’s gone. Really, it’s not worth berating yourself over. Like you say, be nice to yourself.

  9. Posted October 10, 2007 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    @letters:

    Yes, it is a matter of perspective, but I find that I can’t just simply cut and paste and move things around from WordPress draft post to draft post unless I open each up in a separate browser tab.

    We all have our ways of working, and as you can see, many are frustrated with their method and eager to find something easier and not so brow-beating. Which is why I started this series on Blog Struggles. Sometimes, we make it harder on ourselves that it has to be.

  10. Posted October 10, 2007 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    I used to write my drafts on post-it notes. After I accumulated more than 100 of these notes on my desk, I decided to transfer them into a Word document. Re-reading them, I discovered that half had since become indecipherable fragments.

  11. Posted October 10, 2007 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Yikes. And I hope you learned that you should NEVER copy and paste from a Word document into a WordPress blog without using the Rich Text Editor “Paste from Word” button, or passing it through a text editor? I hope. :D

    Word inserts character codes and smart quotes and apostrophes which can do nasty things to your WordPress blog. That’s why I use a text editor, a powerful and flexible text editor, to write my blog posts. I don’t have to go through a “middle man” to publish my posts.

    Post-it posts. Wow!

  12. Posted October 11, 2007 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    I’m like Edrei — to me, the best posts are those that I finish at one go.

    Unsurprisingly enough, those are also posts on subjects that I am passionate about. Draft posts, no matter how much time and research I spend on them, will not sound half as good as those written at one go :)

  13. Posted October 11, 2007 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Lorelle, the question of whether or not to use drafts reminds me of my ongoing internal debate about whether or not to carry a little pocket notebook (or mini recorder or iPod with voice recorder) anywhere and everywhere.

    You get a lot of great ideas when you are disengaged from the computer (for me, hiking, showering, kayaking). Since I began my attempt at a novel AND my blog around the same time, I felt I should always be ready to record those ideas whenever they sprang at me.

    But then I found that I didn’t get the other benefits of my quiet recreation times since I was so tuned into the genesis of the next great post or chapter!

    I wonder if other writers intentionally unplug? What about you?

  14. Posted October 11, 2007 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    @Katie Baird:

    My life on the road requires frequent unplugging. :D

  15. Posted October 12, 2007 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Katie, Lorelle,
    You are talking about a lot of great ideas when you are hiking, showering, kayaking. I am getting ideas when going to sleep. Or just during a dream. So how should I record them? :-)

  16. Posted October 12, 2007 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know whether you’re still searching for the meaning of that WordPress Hat Colors headline, but it reminded me of Edward de Bono’s book about the “six thinking hats”. Maybe what you were thinking at the moment was that WordPress in some mysterious way could be used as “different thinking hats”. Or maybe not.

  17. Posted October 12, 2007 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    @Julia:

    Ah, interesting idea but I’ve never heard of the book. And I still don’t remember why I wrote that. There must have been a reason. It’s been something like two years and I still can’t remember. Oh, well.

    Jacob Skir: If you get ideas that are still in your head when you wake up, consider a “dream diary” or just a notebook by your bed with a pen tied to it. I’ve done many notebooks and scraps of paper next to my bed, but I always lose my pen, so I tie it with a ribbon or crocheted string of yarn to the notebook. I’ll wake up, write it down and then fall right back to sleep, the idea out of my mind.

    The problem is remembering why I wrote that scribble when I wake up. :D

  18. Posted October 14, 2007 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Lorelle, I assure you, you are not alone in this ;) I’ve also learned to dump any and all of my thoughts onto the paper to better preserve my ideas. One-line titles and ideas don’t really make sense once the creative moment is gone.

  19. Posted November 26, 2007 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Post-it notes is definitely not the best solution :D I’m the most unorganized man you could ever imagine

  20. Posted December 10, 2007 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting, some of my favorite posts have come from drafts of ideas that have sat around for a few months. I usually draft pretty similarly to the process you describe. But it is hard to go back to them many times.

    The other day, stumbled upon another fun technique – I sat down with a few notebooks – from book clubs I’d been in, meetings, conferences, classes – and just went through them. I was amazed at all the inspiration I drew from this simple act. I got a list over two pages long just of 1 line ideas and even started drafting out a few more.

    Now I just need to make sure I go back to that list sooner rather than later. Thanks for the encouragement!

  21. casey
    Posted January 15, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I have had similar experiences and agree that it seems to work best when I have an idea for a post to get the essence of it down, write as much as I can without worrying about editing or correcting, then set it aside for a couple of days. When I return to it I can look at it critically edit it and make improvements, but the initial inspiration has been captured.

  22. Phil
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    My main problem used to be procrastination, caused by the nagging writer’s block. I just knew that it would be coming, so I didn’t even sit down to write.


29 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts « Lorelle on WordPress [...]

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  7. [...] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. [...]

  8. [...] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. [...]

  9. [...] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts [...]

  10. [...] Lorelle advises making notes in a text editor. [...]

  11. [...] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. [...]

  12. [...] often besieged with blog ideas. Most of them don’t see the light of day, but they do see my Article Idea notebook, stuffed with scraps of paper, napkins, sticky notes, business cards, and whatever was available to [...]

  13. [...] often besieged with blog ideas. Most of them don’t see the light of day, but they do see my Article Idea notebook, stuffed with scraps of paper, napkins, sticky notes, business cards, and whatever was available to [...]

  14. [...] been keeping an Ideas and Drafts collection in various forms for years. I have bits and pieces of paper stuffed into a giant file [...]

  15. [...] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts [...]

  16. [...] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. [...]

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  18. [...] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. [...]

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  20. […] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. […]

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  23. […] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. […]

  24. […] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. […]

  25. […] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. […]

  26. […] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. […]

  27. […] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. […]

  28. […] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. […]

  29. […] Blog Struggles: Ideas and Drafts: We come up with such great ideas and then what? We jot them down, make lists, start post drafts, and they sit there staring at us, as we procrastinate over what to do with all these ideas and how to keep them in check. I offer tips on how to best keep track of your ideas and drafts. […]

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