“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
I could not find the bottom of the pool.
The task seemed simple enough: Wearing no more than twenty pounds worth of gear, swim to the bottom of an eight-foot pool, remove your gear, and swim back up.
My feet combed for something—anything—solid beneath me, to no avail. A shock of fear struck through my veins, clouding my head. Panic. I reached a point of sheer, utter, uncontrollable panic.
Panic is an interesting beast. It is designed to trigger the flight-or-fight mechanism in the human body; it is for survival at all costs. Yet, it tends to override any form of rationality. So, with twenty pounds dragging me down into the depths, I attempted desperately to swim back up to the surface.
In swimming, there are three places you can be and only one of which is dangerous. The first is above water, where you can breathe. The second is on the bottom, where you can use momentum to push yourself up. The dangerous one is in between. In purgatory. This is where I found myself.
I had not struggled with any aspect of training while at the U.S. Military Academy. I was not the smartest of the bunch, but I was a hard worker and I was willing to sacrifice sleep; this earned me decent grades. I was not the strongest, but I was willing to put in work every day at the gym; this earned me good physical stamina.
I had always heard about how everyone experiences a crucible event at the academy, during which they were stopped dead in their tracks and given two choices: give in, or do everything you can to claw and scratch your way to success. I, however, was complacent.
Time slowed down as I fought tooth and nail to reach the surface. When people are drowning and in a state of panic, they do what is called “shelfing.” It is a fruitless attempt to push the water below them with their arms to get their head to air.
I felt a moment of cold as my hand punched above the surface one last time, clawing for air, before my lungs began burning so badly that my body went limp. I watched the world around me begin to close to black. Pictures of my family and my life flipped across my thoughts like a film reel.
Just as I began to lose consciousness, a shepherd’s hook was thrust in my direction, pulling me to the surface, where I quickly clutched the side of the pool, panting, my heart pounding in my throat. I looked up at my combat survival swimming instructor, my eyes swirling with fear.
“Go in and do it again,” he said.
From that point on, this course became the bane of my existence. I writhed with anxiety before each session. I continued not to pass the swim tests. The dark cloud of failure lingered over my head. This was a mandatory class. If I failed, it put my graduation in jeopardy.
Here I stood, in the second semester of my junior year at West Point, with an enormous, unexpected mountain in front of me. This was my crucible. This was where I would rise or fall, and it would change the course of my existence.
It is important to mention that at this point, I had failed every single “survival gate.” I started going to every extra help session I could, continuously attempting to retest. It all seemed futile because the moment I began to sink in any capacity, my mind went into overdrive and the panic would set in. Once the panic set in, I was finished.
Buddha once said, “Rule your mind or it will rule you.” I was in good physical shape. I knew how to swim. This was not a question of capability; it was a question of mindset. And I had to fix it.
Up until this time in my life, I always used a brute force approach to challenges or adversities. I did not consider the mind as a muscle requiring growth and exercise, like the body. My mind had never acted against what my body and heart wanted to do. For the first time, I experienced uncontrolled thoughts that were influencing my actions.
Every time I attempted to swim, as soon as my hips would begin to drop under, or my head plunged beneath unexpectedly, my inner voice wailed, “It’s over. You are drowning.” Like clockwork, I would let my body become vertical, and I would sink beneath the surface, splashing desperately for the center ropes or the edge.
Something had to change. The water absorbed brute force like it was nothing, and it was more than willing to swallow me into its depths, no matter how much I flailed. I had to find a different way to stop myself from panicking.
I started small. I looked in the mirror before class, and told myself, “You can do this. You are strong.” I played motivational songs before class. I made a deliberate attempt to get myself excited, while inside, my stomach was squirming with dread.
Then one morning, while I was wearing my full kit and attempting to breaststroke across a twenty-five-meter lane, I felt my hips begin to sink. The flush of fear stung my cheeks, and my breathing became staggered.
“You are drowning! You cannot do it!” the voice of panic screamed in my head. I felt my shoulders go under. Then I could no longer breathe.
My eyes squeezed shut as my arms began to wave wildly. But, at that moment, my mind training seemed to kick in. “You are alright.” The small, timid words of reason attempted to push away the panic. “You can save yourself.”
I stopped flailing. I brought my arms to my sides and allowed myself to sink all the way to the bottom of the pool.
“You are okay.” I felt the bottom of the pool with my boots, and pushed as hard as I could against it, sending myself shooting upwards. With a gasp of relief, my head burst out of the water, and I swam to the end. I met the lifeguard’s eye; he had been waiting by the edge of the pool, ready to act.
“Hey, good job!” he told me with a smile. “You saved yourself!”
This was the beginning of a change. I could learn to challenge the negative thoughts.
From then on, when I swam with my gear, I repeated the mantra, “You are okay. You are okay.” When I jumped off the 6-meter diving board and plunged into the depths of the pool, I told myself, “You will make it.” When I slid down into the wave pool, head first, in my gear, clutching my rubber rifle to my chest, I said, “You will finish.”
The swell of panic that consistently grew in me could be quelled by this quiet, steady focus that simply refused to give up. In the end, I retested every single survival gate multiple times and finally scored the minimum requirements to pass the class—on the very last day.
This experience changed my outlook on life and myself. The mind is an incredible tool that you can train to accomplish amazing feats. It can be your worst enemy, or, with practice and understanding, your best weapon.
It is vital to realize that everyone—you included—will go through a crucible in life. It will be a defining moment during which you teeter on the bridge between triumph and defeat, and you will have the choice. That choice and the choices you make every time you are faced with a hurdle will build the habits that ultimately will come to define how you will live your entire life.
You cannot fully prepare for a crucible in life, no matter how much you try. It will sneak up on you, and it will grab you by the neck and pull you under if you let it.
The key lies in your way of thinking. Every single time I got in the water, I was filled with a sensation of impending doom. My internal monologue told me of certain failure. However, you can change your inner voice. Make a deliberate effort to tell yourself a different story than the one that has been drowning you. Change the way you speak to yourself. When your mind is right, your actions can follow.
This is not a story of becoming the most successful swimmer ever. I scraped by with a single mark above failing.
This is a story of training your mind, and making the deliberate decision to fight the negative monologue that has overpowered you. Whether it be a crucible of health, school, physical activity, sports, money, the first step toward overcoming is to convince yourself it is not only possible, but you will.
The negative thoughts are next to impossible to fully stop. Instead, you must train your mind to answer them with stronger, more positive thoughts. Learn to trust yourself through positive self-talk. This is not a skill to learn in a single day, but you can train yourself before your crucible strikes.
The best step you can possibly take for yourself at this very moment is to practice the subtle art of training your mind and thoughts. Meditate on it. When you hear yourself complaining, counter your negative thought with an empowering one. Smile more often, even when you do not feel like it. Feel your fears and doubts, but go for it anyways. Compliment yourself daily. Practice gratitude and mindfulness.
Ask yourself the question, “Who do you want to be?” and use the answer to thwart any thoughts that keep you from becoming that person.
You do not have to let yourself drown to find your mental strength.
About Sarah Goodman
Sarah Goodman is an Armor Officer in the United States Military. She is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and a lover of dogs, fitness, the outdoors, and things that seem impossible. She is believer in meditation through fishing. Her fishing adventures can be found on her website, Gone Fishing Korea. Pictures can also be viewed on Instagram.
The post Train Your Mind: Overcoming Negative Thoughts Is Half the Battle appeared first on Tiny Buddha.
As the end of the year nears, you might be thinking about plans for your blogging in 2018.
One thing that will help inform that is a reader survey. On both ProBlogger and Digital Photography school I do an annual survey, usually around November.
As we plan our surveys, I thought I’d share some of the types of questions you can ask and give you a chance to share some of the survey techniques that have been successful for you too.
Types of questions you could ask:
- Demographics: find out your readers’ gender, age, income, and interests. You can compare this with the analytics you get from Google Analytics and Facebook Insights.
- Content: What types of content do your readers like? Practical, inspirational, case studies? What length of blog post do they prefer, and how often do they like reading?
- Products: If you’re planning new products you can test out some ideas and price points in your survey.
- Problems: Some of the most useful information you can find out is the kinds of problems your readers want solved – the keystone to creating engaging content.
Another area you may want to include is any questions that regular advertisers/sponsors may want to know, or information you can use to attract regular advertisers and sponsors.
A good example of this is finding out the intentions of your readers. If you have a travel blog, and know that 50% of your readers are planning international travel in the next three months, you can use that information to show the relevance of your blog to overseas destinations or maybe insurance providers.
Maybe you’re wondering about how to implement a survey. We use SurveyMonkey for our surveys, but you could also use Google Forms. Typeform is another survey tool we’ve checked out. The main thing is to use something that will let you ask succinct questions and get aggregated answers that can easily be viewed and analysed as data and graphs.
If you’ve got some tips on how you run readers surveys, please leave them in the comments below so we can create a more detailed post in the future.
Image Credit: Emily Morter
The post Community Discussion: How Do You Survey Your Readers? appeared first on ProBlogger.
Steven Spielberg is the wealthiest and one of the most famous movie directors in Hollywood. His movies have grossed more than $11 billion worldwide. He’s directed more than 50 movies and many of them achieved box office records including E.T., Jurassic Park, Minority Report, Schindler’s List, the Indiana Jones series and many more. He’s won countless […]
Creating a plugin extends the power of WordPress. Follow along with this tutorial for a quick beginner’s course on how to begin the process of creating a custom plugin.
In this tutorial, you will be introduced to:
- Why creating a custom plugin is a better choice over modifying core theme, plugin, and WordPress files.
- Why creating a custom plugin is generally a better choice over creating custom functions in the functions.php file of a theme.
- How to install the Pluginception Plugin and use it as a very quick, simple way to create a custom plugin.
- How to start the creation of a plugin and what the minimum requirements are.
- How to delete the Pluginception Plugin after using it, if desired.
Resources discussed in the video:
It is considered bad practice to edit core files of themes, plugins, and of WordPress itself.
Filter and action hooks are often included to prevent the need for this.
If modifying core files, the changes will be lost when the core files are updated with feature updates or important bug and security fixes.
One way to include custom functions is to modify the functions.php file of a parent or child theme.
Of these 2 choices, it’s better to modify the functions.php file of a child theme.
However, if you ever switch themes, the custom functions will be lost.
In some cases though, this won’t matter if the custom functions were only used to modify the functionality of that theme.
Other times, for writing functions to do things like including custom fields in your posts, it’s best to write a custom plugin, because for that type of functionality… you will want to retain it regardless of the theme being used.
I really like the simplicity of using the Pluginception plugin to create a custom plugin. It prevents the need to interact with the File System using FTP, and comes with a template for a basic function.
For that reason, I am going to show you how to use that plugin to create your own plugin.
Let’s get the Pluginception plugin installed now.
- To install Pluginception, from your WordPress Dashboard, go to Plugins, then Add New.
- Do a search for Pluginception.
- Click Install Now, then Activate.
Now, a new menu option below Plugins will be created to allow you create a new plugin.
Let’s go through the quick steps for starting the creation of a new plugin.
- From your WordPress Dashboard, go to Plugins, then Create a New Plugin.
- Give your Plugin a name.
- Click the Create a Blank Plugin button.
That’s really all there is to the minimum requirements for a plugin.
Here you would paste in some functions that may have normally been suggested to use within the functions.php file of a theme.
After adding in your functions, save the file to see your customizations in action.
When you are done with Pluginception, you may want to delete it.
If so, follow the quick steps below.
- From your WordPress Dashboard, go to Plugins, then Installed Plugins.
- Click the Deactivate link below Pluginception.
- Then click the Delete link.
You should also watch our other create a WordPress plugin video tutorial where you will learn some additional plugin creation techniques.
“Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world.” ~Brené Brown
I wrote a poem today for the woman I love(d).
Just a few weeks ago, I fully believed she was the one I’d be with forever. Love forever. My heart was open so deep and wide to her. We talked about marriage and living together in the woods, making art, and being a family.
Then things got tough. We talked, we tried, we read books, jetted our intention out into the universe. But we just couldn’t keep it together.
There was so much pain. But also so much love. There were no lies; there was no betrayal. There was lots of kindness and understanding, attempts at consciousness and empathy. It was really hard, and my heart broke. But it’ll be okay. Just a very different road than I had anticipated.
After a few weeks we’ve come together again as friends. Really good friends. As she said, “I want to be the best ex-girlfriend you’ve ever had.” And so far, she is. Truly.
She challenged us to love each other as much as we can, while not being together. It’s a big ask. A deeply spiritual question that pushes boundaries of everything we think we know about who we love, why we love, and what we expect in return.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day we met.
As you might imagine, my poet heart is full of love, hurt, conjecture, compassion, and the mystery of it all. And that brings me to my point…
Creativity is not a luxury item.
Writing her some verses about what we had, what we dreamed and what we’ve become, helped me to clarify my thoughts and feelings. It helped me see into my own truth.
For anyone who feels compelled in any way to activate and engage with their creativity, it really is so much bigger than it appears. Here’s why…
Creativity helps us to be seen.
There are something like seven billion people running around on this planet. Whether you’re driving down the freeway, walking the streets of your city, or tapping around online, it’s easy to feel lost. To feel invisible, inconsequential. It’s a big world.
When we create something, whether it’s a one-woman show, a video animation, a poem, a song, whatever—we’re taking what’s inside of us and stepping it out. Now it can be shown or heard. Now it can be experienced, transmitted. Now it can be shared.
When it’s shared, parts of us that were once invisible, hidden, obscured, become known.
Perhaps you’ll get your fifteen minutes and become popular with the masses. More likely, it’ll be with your extended gang or just a few close people. And sometimes your creation will only be for yourself. Even if no one else checks out your work, it’ll still help you to see yourself. Become better known to yourself. Understand more deeply who you are.
This is big.
Creativity helps us to be expressed.
To be expressed simply means moving from the potential to the actual. A dancer that sits in the corner is not expressed as a dancer in that moment. A chef that heats up a can of soup is not expressed as a chef. You get the idea.
As my poetry teacher in college said, a poet is not someone with a book of poems on her desk. It’s not someone with a teaching gig or a fat resume. A poet is someone who writes poems.
This may seem pretty obvious, but it goes deep. As humans, our true potential is nearly limitless. Based on the choices we make, the chances we take, and the efforts we put in, our lives move forward in whatever trajectory we choose. We will essentially be expressed in various ways as the result of our choices.
Creativity, in whatever form we desire, helps us become who are we. Dancer, poet, entrepreneur, singer, artist, dad, friend, teacher, lover, whatever. It’s your choice. Your effort. Your path. However you choose to express becomes your life.
This is big.
Creativity helps us to heal.
There are plenty of ways to heal. You can see a therapist, dig into some meditation, go on a solo voyage around the world, talk to you pals, hit up a sweat lodge, or go on a fantastic inner journey. It’s all good. Whatever’s right for you is right for you. But there’s at least one key difference in using creativity to heal.
When we create something it moves from the internal (an idea) to the external (the expression). Unlike a meditation or a visit with the therapist, our struggles and our catharsis can now be shared.
I wrote a screenplay called PANACEA’S DREAM about a shaman and scientist who develop a pill that cures any illness. It works, but nobody really knows why.
Thematically, it’s about the duality between faith and science. This is something I’ve grappled with my whole life. But now, these questions play out through my characters. I’m healed in ways by writing this narrative because I can now integrate the separate parts of my myself. I can now see and have empathy for the skeptic within as well and the spiritualist who relies on faith alone.
Anyone who reads my screenplay or sees the movie will get some kind of benefit from it. Perhaps stir up some questions. My expression can be shared. Unlike that trip to the therapist or the sweat in the lodge.
So creativity helps us to be seen, expressed, and healed. This is fantastic! But I just recently had a bit of an epiphany and tapped into a deeper truth while talking with my old love.
Being expressed, healed, and seen is actually a service to humanity. A gift to the world.
When we are expressed, we become who we truly are.
When we are healed, we become better versions of ourselves.
When we are seen, our truth and goodness shine in the world.
And when we express, heal and shine, we help other to do the same. This is big. Really big.
Tomorrow I’m going to take my own advice. I’m going to give my old love her poem. And love her with everything I’ve got in my heart (even though we’re not together). I’m going to express, heal, and be seen in ways I cannot speak.
Creativity is not a luxury item.
About Jeff Leisawitz
Jeff Leisawitz burns with a mission—to inspire writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, entrepreneurs (and everyone else) to amp up their creativity, heal their hearts, and shine in the world. Check out his online interactive creativity workshops and get FREE chapters of his book, Not F*ing Around—The No Bullsh*t Guide for Getting Your Creative Dreams Off the Ground here. http://jeffleisawitz.com
The post The Healing Power of Creativity and Why It’s a Gift to the World appeared first on Tiny Buddha.
How and Why You Should Create Style Guides for Your Blog
In today’s episode, I talk about style guides for blogs – why they’re important, and what elements you should include in yours.
Links and Resources for How to Create a Style Guide for Your Blog
Further Reading and Listening for How to Create a Style Guide for Your Blog
- 10 Writing Tips to Help You Sound More Human
- How and Why to Create a Blog Style Guide
- How to Create a Content Style Guide to Improve Your Blog’s Quality
- How to Create a Writing Style Guide Built for the Web
Hi there. Welcome to Episode 216 of the ProBlogger Podcast. My name is Darren Rowse and I’m the blogger behind problogger.com – a blog, podcast, event, job board, and a series of ebooks all designed to help you as a blogger to start a great blog, to grow your audience, and to build some profit around that blog. You can learn more about ProBlogger over at problogger.com.
Now I’m just back from Dallas. I’ve had a few weeks off from the podcast and it’s been great to get some feedback from some of you that you missed the podcast over the last few weeks. I’m sorry for the break, but I hope you had a little bit of fun digging around in our archives.
As I’ve said, just back from Dallas and we had an amazing time in Dallas. I was at the FinCon Conference where I did the opening keynote and had an absolute ball. I think there was around 1800 financial bloggers, real estate bloggers there. Really great conference, very good community.
And before FinCon, of course, we ran the Success Incubator, a little event that we had as well. We had about 80 or so ProBlogger listeners and some attendees from the previous digital collab events and it was fantastic. We had this full day of training, we started about 8:30, 9:00 in the morning and went through to about 9:30 at night. It was a big day and that was packed with teaching. We had Pat Flynn, Kim Garst, Andrea Vahl, we had Rachel Miller, Kelly Snyder, a variety of other bloggers as well.
The feedback we had on that day of teaching was fantastic. People loved how intense it was, the fact that we packed in so much information. That was great. And then we had half a day of masterminding the next day, which I always love – that opportunity to sit around the table with bloggers and online entrepreneurs and brainstorm.
You can still pick up virtual tickets for that event, if you go to problogger.com/success. I think they’re US$127 and that gets you the first day, that first full day of teaching. I think it’s about eight hours of teaching and you get the slides as well.
That price will go up. It’s not an early bird one because it’s now after the event, but it will go up in the coming days as well. You get some teachings there on live video creation from Kim Garst, Pat Fynn’s teaching on creating an editorial calendar, promotional calendar for your business, you get some training on Facebook advertising, using challenges to grow your blog, how to sell courses, Steve Chu did an amazing session which I picked up so much information on how he promotes his courses using webinars and Facebook advertising. It’s really practical teaching, and again you can check out the agenda there at problogger.com/success.
On to today’s episode. Today I want to talk about style guides – how to create them for your blog, and why you should create them for you blog as well. Style guides in my opinion are one way that you can really lift a good blog to a great blog by building more consistency across your content, across from one blog post to another.
You can grab today’s show notes with the full transcription of this episode at problogger.com/podcast/216.
Lastly, I should say on our events, stay tuned for news of future events both in Australia and hopefully in the US. We’ll hopefully have some news for you on that in the coming weeks and even months as we begin to plan 2018. Thanks for listening and let’s get onto today’s show.
Today we’re talking about style guides. I want to talk about why you need them, and also how to create one. I want to give you some practical things that you can include in your style guide for your blog.
Now, what is a style guide? Really, as I’ve talked to different bloggers, they mean different things to different people. Some people, a style guide is purely about the writing on your blog. It could be the writing style guide. Other bloggers include a lot more, they will include things like how to use graphics and how the blog should look in terms of colors and the brand. Really, I guess it could be whatever it is for you. But the main reason you want a style guide for your blog is to build consistency in your blog.
Most blogs, if you dig around in them, you begin to see inconsistencies, and this naturally happens. I look back on the early days of ProBlogger and I look at the first posts I wrote and they were all text, there was no images in them at all. That’s a big change that’s happened in blogging. I started blogging in 2002, 2004 for ProBlogger, of course things have changed. The style of my writing has probably matured in that time.
There’s going to be some inconsistencies through your archives, but bloggers run into trouble when one blog post that you write today is different in style and in how it looks to tomorrow’s blog post. That’s the kind of inconsistencies that many blogs have without even knowing it, and a style guide can really help a lot. Something that really can help your readers to feel like they’re reading a unified publication. If you open a magazine, the magazine is designed in way the reader feels even though there is different articles, that they belong next to each other. That’s the type of thing that you want to be doing in your blog post as well.
To state it most simply, a style guide is where you put into writing the guidelines for how you want your blog to be written and presented. And the reason you want to do it is to bring this consistency. This is the type of thing that you’ve probably already got without even knowing it. You’ve probably got a style guide in your mind. Most bloggers have one in their mind, and it’s just because most blogs start out being written by one person.
This is why many of us don’t actually feel like we need a style guide in the early days because we think that we’re consistent. We think that if I’m the only one writing this blog, then it’s going to be consistent from blog post to the next blog post.
But the reality is if you dig around in your archives, and I challenge you to do this, you’ll begin to spot inconsistencies. I think it’s really important to bed down the style that you want into writing, to actually bed it down because you’ll begin to see these inconsistencies in your own writing. Particularly if you want to add new writers into your blog, whether they’re just one-off guest posters of whether you want to bring on a regular writer, this is where a style guide really becomes even more useful as well.
The trouble I see with many blogs is you look through the archives and you can see these inconsistencies. The inconsistencies that you want to be looking for on your blog as you look through your archives are the voice of your writing. What style do you use? There’s a natural exploration of different voices that will happen on many blogs, but generally over time you want to become a bit more consistent with the voice that you use. Are you writing in the first person? Are you conversational when you’re writing? Are you writing for beginners, or are you writing for a more advanced audience? As I say, some variation in this is fine and is natural. But as your blog progresses, you’ll probably want to stick to one voice more and more.
Other areas of inconsistency, capitalization of words in headlines, for example, and I see this all the time. You see one blog post that all the main words are capitalized and then you look at the next blogpost and it’s just the first letter of the headline is capitalized and the rest of it is in lowercase. That may not really irk you, but I bet there are some of you readers who are wondering what’s going on there and they notice that type of thing even if you don’t.
Grammatical rules. For example, when I write ProBlogger, I capitalize P and B, ProBlogger. Even though I present it as one word. As long as that’s consistent, that’s fine. That becomes part of your brand. You might have those type of things as well. On Digital Photography School, we call that blog dPS, the D is generally lowercase and the P and the S are capitals and that becomes part of the brand. But we want to be consistent in that way. It sort of sets us apart I guess in some ways from other people who have used dPS and those other sites out there who do.
Another word that we use a lot both on ProBLogger and on Digital Photography School is ‘ebook’. Ebook is presented in all kinds of different ways on the web. Some people do a little lowercase e and then uppercase B and then present as one word. Other people hyphenate and have it lowercase. Other people just do it lowercase the whole word. Having consistency in that way is important. I see some bloggers who use that word ebook and they will capitalize it differently even within the one article. Again, it doesn’t really annoy me that much, but I know there would be other people who would be having conniptions about that.
Use of images and graphics is another one. This is something I know I’m guilty of from time to time – having consistency in the way you use images. If you put typeface on your words, words on your images, do you have consistency in the fonts you use, the colors that you use, the way you use headlines, the way you use lists and blockquotes, and the way you spell words as well. Do you use a US spelling, American spelling, or do you use a British spelling? This really comes into play when you’ve got more than one author as well.
All of these things can present inconsistencies. Whilst you might look at them all individually and just say they’re small things, they add up. And generally over time they can really become a big thing.
Most single author blogs, you’ll find that most of you will probably have a certain amount of consistency because you write the way you write. You will generally, from post to post, have some consistency. But even single author blogs do change over time. It really does come into play when you have more than one author on your blog.
For example, on Digital Photography School we have a lot of writers. We have about 40 writers, we publish 14 articles a week. There’s a lot of opportunity there for inconsistency because our writers come from across the world, even just on the spelling front. We’ve got writers who come from America, we’ve got writers who come from England, writers who come from Australia, and there’s different spelling of words. Then we’ve got readers who come from all of those places as well. To make a decision upfront that we are going to use the American spelling because that’s where most of our readers come from and most of our authors as well, brings some consistency to that.
Whilst it’s not going to suit all of our readers, at least our readers will see that we’re consistent in that. When you’ve got 14 posts a week from 14 different authors, there’s incredible potential for a very messy looking blog, in terms of the writing but also how things are presented. Style guides do become more important as you add more people into your blog but I think they’re still important even if you’re a single writer, single author blogger, because you’ll find naturally over time that you’ll change some of your style as well.
So how do you create this simple style guide for your blog? What should you include? How detailed should it be? As I mentioned earlier, it’s going to vary a lot from blog to blog. I know some bloggers for instance who have a style guide and they keep it purely to writing – how the writing on the blog should appear. Whilst other bloggers include more broader guidelines like what brand colors should be used.
Some people have two style guides for the two different things. I have a brand style guide and a writing style guide. I think it’s okay to merge those things a little bit together. And so what I want to present to you today is a simplified one.
I want to give you four or five different areas that you want to make some decisions about and create a little document. And I’m thinking here that you could create a document that’s maybe one to two pages long. You don’t need anything more detailed than that to start with. You will find though over time that you can evolve this document.
And I think it should be a living document because you will find over time that there will be more opportunity to add new things in, partly because you might start using different technologies or you might add in different types of content. You might add in some video over time, or there’ll be new opportunities to add in new authors who will bring up different things for you. This is a living document but what I want to give you are some things to include at the beginning of the creation of this.
Four or so things to include. The first one is a short description of your audience. I think who is reading your blog really should be the basis for most of the decisions you are making regarding content and what is in this style guide. Ideally, what you want to create is some kind of avatar or persona or reader profile for your blog. I talked about this in Episode 33 where I actually talked through how to create an avatar for your blog and we actually did an article on ProBlogger recently that gave you a template for creating an avatar for new blogs. I think that’s a useful exercise to do.
You may not want to include that full avatar in your writing style guide, but at least referring to it and including a sentence or two about who you are writing for, because ultimately that should be informing all the decisions that you make. Include a sentence or two about who is reading your blog, and maybe refer to the avatar if you’ve done that exercise. That’s point number one.
Number two is to, again, just in a few sentences, describe the voice that you want your content to be written in, or the tone. How do you want your content to sound or come across to your readers. Even if you just brainstorm a few words that would describe the type of content that you want to create. For example, do you want your content to be conversational? Or do you want it to be authoritative? or do you want it to be humorous? Do you want it to be sophisticated, educational, friendly, irreverent, comprehensive? These words will begin to help you and any other writers you may bring on to understand the tone that you want, the voice that you want in your content.
Over time, you’re probably going to say, “I want all of those types of content in my blog.” And that’s totally fine on a blog. But generally you’ll want to keep some consistency on it, and over time you’ll want more and more of your content to fit into a certain style. That’s going to help your readers to engage with you and to build a relationship with you, and to learn from you more as well.
So a few sentences there on your voice.
If you want to learn a little bit more about developing your voice, you might want to go back and listen to episode 166 of the ProBlogger podcast where I give you 15 types of voices that you can write in. But even just doing that brainstorm of a few words that will describe the voice that you want to write in can be useful as well. There’s no reason why you can’t change that later. This is a starting point for you.
Number one was to describe your audience. Number two is to describe the voice – the tone of your writing. Number three we want to get a little bit more into the nitty gritty of things and to talk about spelling and grammar, which I know some of you are squirming about and I’m one of those people. It doesn’t come naturally to me (I’m not a details person), but I think it’s important to address this.
Most larger publications, most media would adopt the spelling and grammatical guidelines of an external style guide. There actually are… whole style guides have been written. One very common one is the AP Stylebook. I’ll link to this in the show notes today. There’s another one called the Chicago Manual Of Style. Again, I’ll link to that today.
Both of these you can buy. I think the AP Stylebook for example is pretty affordable. I think it’s US$22.95 for the print edition, and I think there’s an online version of it as well which is about $25. It may be that you want to get that.
And basically, as you look through them, they’re very extensive outlines of all the rules of grammar and spelling that you might come across. Many media will just say we adopt the AP Stylebook or we adopt the Chicago Manual Of Style and they give all their writers access to these books so that if there’s ever a question of what they should be including or how they should be spelling a word or how they should be using grammar, they can just refer to that.
This may be overkill if you are just a single author blog. Or you may actually want to do that if that’s something for you. If it’s overkill for you, all you really need in this section is to address some of these types of things. Firstly, spelling. Do you adopt American or British spelling, and this will probably be determined by who you are and who you author and who your readers are as well. I’m an Australian, so if I was writing for an Australian readership, I’ll probably adopt the British spelling because that’s the way Aussies tend to go. But I have predominantly US readers and so I have adopted the American spelling, even though it doesn’t come naturally for me. It’s something that I do need to edit myself on.
Other things that you might want to include in the spelling and grammar section of your style guide are things around punctuation and capitalization. For example, the use of commas. I’m not going to go into the debates around the use of commas. This is perhaps a discussion for another day. There are people who get very fired up about commas and I don’t really want to get into that today. But as long as you’ve got a consistent use of commas, that’s important.
The use of capitalization in headlines. The use of exclamation marks. I know some bloggers hate exclamation marks and they don’t allow them on their blogs. You may choose to do something else. Anything around punctuation, capitalization should be included.
The use of numbers. Will you use numerals or will you spell them out? That may be something that you want to include in this section.
Particularly pay attention to any regularly used troublesome words. Words like ebook, for example, where there can be a lot of inconsistencies. If you’re using the word ebook or if you have a brand name like ProBlogger where you capitalize the P and the B, you want to include that type of thing in this section as well.
You might also want to include guidelines around the use of acronyms, particularly if you’re in a niche or a topic where acronyms are used a lot. How are you going to introduce an acronym in an article? For example, you may choose to explain the acronym when you first use it in an article. If it was AOL, I know it’s a bit of an old-fashioned one, the first time you use that acronym in the article you may want to have in brackets what that means and actually spell out the words, and then from then on just use the acronym.
These are the types of things that you can include into your spelling and grammar section of your style guide.
The fourth section that I’ll include you to think about is more about how you want your content to look, and some other factors as well. And this I’ve just kind of lumped into an other style guidelines section.
Let’s talk about images in your article. How many should your article have? For example, on ProBlogger we always want an image. On Digital Photography School we always want an image. That is part of our style guide – we have to have an image. And so anyone writing for us has to help us find that image. Should there be an image? How many images are okay? You might want to have a limit on how many images. It’s up to you.
How should those images be captioned? Do you want captions on every image? Only where the image requires a caption? And also how do you want to attribute the photographers of those images? Do you want to do that in the caption, or do you want to do it somewhere else in the article? These are the types of things that you might want to include into your style guide.
How big should the images be? How many pixels? How they should be aligned? Do you want them to be full width? Do you want them to be aligned left, to be aligned right? Where can people source them? You may even want to include which stock library you use, and give details there for people.
Also, the use of typeface in images. If you’re doing graphic overlays, what fonts should be used? What colors should be used? These are things that can really be mixed up a lot, and you can end up with a very messy looking blog because you’ve got lots of inconsistencies there. Do you want your logo to be included in those text overlays?
These are the type of things that will really have a big impact upon the visualization of your content and how people see your content, and what they feel about it as a result.
You might want to also include in there that you want very dark images or you want very light, washed out kind of images. Those types of stylistic considerations may come into play there as well.
Other things that you might want to include are around your headlines or titles. For example, how long do you want them to be? Do you have rules around the length of them? Some people do that for SEO considerations – they don’t want long headlines. Do you want headlines that are more keyword rich, more descriptive, or do you want more curiosity, clickbaity-type headlines? These are the types of things you might want to include.
The length of paragraphs might be something? Do you want short paragraphs. Are you okay with longer paragraphs? I know a couple of bloggers who actually have word limits or how many lines the paragraph should take up because they don’t want their paragraphs to be too long.
The use of lists. Do you require numbers or bullets, or are you okay with either?
The use of headings or subheadings. Which H tags should you use? This is really useful for anyone who’s coming onto your blog. Most people know how to use a H tag, but you may have some rules around what order they should be in or how many H2 tags or how many H3 tags you might want to have.
It’s getting a little bit technical here. But these are the types of questions that some of your authors will have over time.
You might want to include things around how to use bold or italics or underline or strikethrough. I personally don’t like strikethrough in my text on my blog. Underlining is something I don’t generally do. But bold and italics we allow for some emphasis. But within reason – we don’t want every third word being bold or in italics.
The use of block quotes. How to cite sources. Do you want to use quotes? Do you want to put all quotes in block quotes?
Also guidelines around linking as well. Do you want to have nofollow tags on your links, or only when they’re paid, sponsorship type things?
All of these questions it’s important to include in there so that as a writer is creating content, they can be having their questions answered without having to keep coming back to you all the time. It’s going to cut down the work that you have to do in editing the content, but also it’s going to speed up their writing process as well.
You might want to include word count limits if you want all articles to be over 500 words. Or maybe you want all articles to be over 2000 words. Again, it’s going to help to bring some consistency to your content.
Embeddable content. Do you allow people to embed content – YouTube videos or Vimeo videos or even social media? Do you require that type of thing? I know some bloggers that every post they have, they want to have some embeddable content. Again, all of these things can be factors for you.
You may look at this list that I’ve created (and you’ll be able to see it all in the show notes today) and you may say, “This is overkill. I don’t need to go into this detail”. But over time you probably will find that you will include most of these things, particularly if you’re adding new authors because you’ll find authors will bring their own style and some of it will clash with what you just assume everyone will want to do as well.
Other things that you might want to include in your style guide are things that you want your authors to do after they’ve written their post. For example, if you have a plugin like Yoast (the SEO plugin), if you’ve got that you’ll be familiar with some of the additional fields that are in the backend of your WordPress.
For example, you have the ability to write a particular title and description just for Facebook or just for Twitter. You may want to do that yourself, or you might want to ask your authors to do that as well. If there’s anything in there like click-to-tweet plugins, you might want to include those. Do you want the author to do that? In your style guide you might want to include a little checklist of other things that you want people to do as well.
You might also want to get your authors to find further reading from your archives and link to those. You might want to have some guidelines around choosing categories or tags, or anything else that you might want to do around SEO. Do you want them to use certain keywords in a certain number of times? And also some guidelines around author bios as well.
All of these are factors that you might want to include in your style guide. The thing I would say to you is if you’re listening to this and think this is just overkill, that’s okay. You can start with a very simple one. You might just want to have in yours your audience, who they are, the voice that you’ve got, the spelling that you use, and that may be enough for the early days and then you can begin to add in extra things as you think of them, as you come up with potential inconsistencies in your blog.
A really simple exercise that you might want to try is just to go back through your archives and dig back to this time last year if you’ve been blogging for a while, and look at some of the article’s that you’ve got in your archives and just look for those inconsistencies. Maybe randomly choose ten of your posts and look back through them.
Pay attention to the images, the way you’ve used images. Pay attention to headlines. Pay attention to the introductions or the conclusions of your articles. You’ll begin to see over time that things in your archives grate on you, things in your archives you’ll cringe at a little bit, And they will be signals to you that they’re things that you might want to put into your style guide that you don’t want people to do as they write for your blog.
Create this style guide and put it in a place which you can easily refer back to yourself and as you bring on authors. Build it into your orientation for new authors as well. On Digital Photography School, we’ve now got a fairly comprehensive style guide, but it also includes other things that we want our authors to know. We created almost like a guidebook that we give to any new author who comes on, and it answers things like style guides but also shows them how to submit posts to be edited, and how to log in and how to set up their author bio, these types of things as well. We’ve actually created a little orientation system that our editors are able to walk a new writer through.
You want your style guide to be easy to refer to, easy to edit. As I said it right upfront, you want it to be a living document.
Involve your writers. If you do have a team, involve them in the creation of the style guide as well, and make note of any question they ask you. As a new author that comes on, any question they ask you is probably a question that someone else is going to ask you later on. So include the answers in your style guide in that orientation book as well.
It does take a little bit of work to setup a style guide. But it’s the type of thing that is going to improve your content over time. It’s going to reduce the tension and the clashes that your readers have with your content as well over time. There are certain segments of your readership who will notice this type of thing, and if you can remove these little barriers for them engaging with your content, it’s going to have a massive impact over time. And it’s going to help you to come across as a much more professional publication as well.
So work hard on setting it up, and then I guess the other part of it is work hard on being consistent and actually adopting the style that you set down as well.
Thanks for listening, I’ve got today’s show notes over at problogger.com/podcast/216, and I’ve also included today in the show notes some further reading and some further listening. I actually did a podcast with Beth Dunn a little while ago on how to write in a more human-like way, how to sound more human in your writing. We talked a little bit in that episode about style guides. Go and listen to that one as well.
Also, there’s three articles there that have been written by the team at Canva, another one by the team at Buffer, and another by the team at HubSpot which really do give you some really good ideas for how to create a style guide and some of them even have templates that you can fill in as well.
Check out the podcast show notes today at probloger.com/podcast/216 for that further reading, and for a summary of what I’ve talked about today.
Thanks so much for listening, I’d love to hear what you think about today’s episode. You can leave a comment on the show notes or check us out on Facebook, the ProBlogger Community Group and there’ll be a link there where you can share your comments on today’s episode as well if you’ve got any questions or other suggestions to add. Thanks for listening and I look forward to chatting with you next week in Episode 217 of the ProBlogger podcast.
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The post 216: How to Create a Style Guide for Your Blog (and Why You Should) appeared first on ProBlogger.