When I was a second-year cadet journalist on an Australian newspaper, my chief-of-staff gave me a coveted assignment. ‘I need you to interview Australian cricket captain Allan Border for a story about daylight savings,’ he said.
I grabbed my pen and notebook (both sporting L-plates) and reached for the phone, but in my heart I knew the esteemed Allan Border would never speak to a cub reporter about daylight savings.
I made a few phone calls anyway and discovered he was playing in the Sheffield Match in South Australia at the time. I was convinced now; there was no way he was going to interrupt a cricket match to talk to me.
Like a dog with a month-old bone, however, I called the Adelaide Oval and was put through to a young guy in the change-rooms. ‘Sure, you can talk to Allan. Here he comes now, he’s just finished batting,’ he said.
Picking myself up off the floor and stifling a swear word I promised my Grade 10 teacher I would never repeat, I racked my brain for what to say. You see, I had been so convinced I wouldn’t get to speak to Allan Border that I hadn’t done a scrap of research, nor prepared a single question.
Had I done the research I would have known that he was 3-1/2 years into what would be a four-year Test century drought for him, and I would never, ever, ever have said what I said next. (In my defence, though, I could never have known he had literally, 30 seconds prior to taking my call, got out for a duck.)
Before I had time to collect my thoughts he was on the other end of the phone, ‘Hello, Allan speaking.’ My brain went numb. I said the first thing that came to my mind. “Ummmmm, how’s your batting going?”
The silence was spine-chilling. Finally he said, “Are you taking the p&%* out of me?” So, I had committed an atrocious faux pas and had offended the esteemed Allan Border. But he was so gracious and, in the end, I got the page three lead anyway.
But in that moment when one of the world’s greatest all-time cricketers swore at me, I resolved to change my work ethic and my attitude. (But let’s face it, I don’t regret it; it gave me a darn good story that I intend to repeat to anyone who’ll listen until my dying day.)
From that one exchange I learned the true value of preparation and planning. These days, as a writer and very eager blogger, I strictly follow the formula touted in the popular business mantra, The Five Ps. There are a number of versions of this mantra, but I like the one that says Preparation, Planning and Practice = Perfect Performance. (I also chuck in a sixth p – passion.)
We cannot hope to succeed in any new venture that we attempt if we are don’t plan, prepare and put in the effort to practice our new-found skills. When I first started the WriteSmart blog I was very tempted to just begin scratching away at my computer keyboard on some half-baked post idea. But Allan Border’s dismayed question popped into my head and I took a step back. I began searching respected blog sites; I read for hours about the keys to writing compelling blog content; and I trawled through successful blogs to see how those authors did it.
I had been a journalist for 18 years, but I wrote for newspapers, magazines and online news sites. Blogs were a whole new genre with a completely new readership. So I munched on a slice of humble pie and sought the advice and experience of those who had helped blogging evolve into a respected genre all of its own.
To that end, these are the top P tips I employ in my endeavours as a blogger:
If you are new to blogging, don’t start sprinting until you have learned how to crawl, toddle and walk-without-falling-down first. Learn all that you can about how to blog well by those who are doing it successfully. You will save yourself a lot of time and, ultimately, create a better quality product from the outset. With respect to writing posts, research the topic if you are not already an expert. Google, go to a library, interview the experts.
Who are you blogging for? Who is your target audience? What sort of posts do you intend to write? If you don’t plan, you may soon discover there is no central theme connecting your posts. Without a central theme, your posts may be relevant to your readers only some of the time. You want your posts to be relevant to your readers all of the time so that they don’t tune out.
Write, write, write. It is no secret that with practice, everyone’s skills improve. As a blogger, your main tool (yes, besides YouTube) is your ability to succinctly string words together to form engaging, creative, funny, informative sentences. So, start writing, keep writing, practice writing.
If you take to the computer like a kid takes to brussel sprouts, something has to change. You need to inject into your blogging whatever it is that you do love. Perhaps you have started a blog that centres on a topic you don’t particularly like. If so, don’t chuck it in, just change it to something that will excite and engage you. Consider changing the look of your blog to a design that is more appealing to you. Set some goals you can aim for as motivators. You have got to enjoy what you are doing. If you don’t, think about ways to change it so you do.
So, when you next sit down to write your blog think ‘Preparation, Planning, Practice and Passion = Perfect Performance’. If you do, you greatly reduce the risk of world-class sportsmen uttering obscenities at you.