Frictionless blogging: Remove the barriers to publishing


    Photo courtesy of mezone.

    By Leo Babauta

    There was a time when I would agonize over writing a post, get it perfect, and basically spend hours on it (if not days) before publishing.

    Perfect is the enemy of a good blogger.

    These days, I post to four different blogs without it taking large chunks of my life away: Zen Habits, Write To Done, mnmlist.com and now Zen Family Habits. If I allowed perfection and a million other obstacles to get in my way, I’d never be able to get my ideas out there.

    Having the ideas isn’t the problem — I have a million of them. What I’ve learned is “frictionless blogging”: removing all the barriers to publishing so that I get those ideas out into the world as easily as possible.

    What are the barriers to blogging? Think about it in your own life — what slows you down? Fear of sounding dumb? Distractions? Fiddling with your blog software, stats, widgets? Formatting a post perfectly? Getting every single word right? Finding the perfect photo? Writing the perfect headline?

    These and many other things create friction, and the more friction there is, the less you can publish. Now, we should ask the question: is it desirable to publish quickly and often? Not always.

    I am a fan of slow living, and a minimalist, so you’d think frictionless blogging and being prolific would be against my nature. And it is, to the extent that I don’t like a chaotic, complicated, frenetic, overly speedy lifestyle. But if you can remove distractions, enjoy the act of writing, and then publish in as simple a way possible, that’s a good thing.

    You don’t need to be prolific or speedy. I am, as a blogger, only because I love putting my ideas out there — to be used, to be criticized, to be turned into something new and better, or to slowly fade away into the void because no one cared. All of those are better than my ideas languishing in my head, never to surface into the world.

    So I publish, without friction. And it works. I can blog a lot, easily, and still have time for other projects (A-List Blogging, a fitness course I’m creating, ebooks, and other fun stuff).

    So if you’re interested in frictionless blogging, here are a few tips:

    • Write in text or Textile or Markdown. Ignore formatting when you write. Don’t even worry about links or photos. Just write. Text is perfect for this, but lately I’ve also been using Textile because it’s still fast but it saves time later. Markdown is also a good choice. With all three, you’re just writing text, and not worrying about complicated formatting.
    • Use a simple tool. WordPress and other blogging software are great, but for writing, they’re overkill. And they contain distractions, like going to look at comments or stats or plugins or widgets or your theme. Forget about all that. Just focus on the writing, by using a simple tool. The simplest is a text editor with no bells or whistles. I use TextEdit on the Mac, and used Notepad when I was on a PC.
    • Eliminate distractions. When you’re writing, turn off the Internet and close your browser and all other programs. Seriously. You don’t need them to write — if you need some research or a quote, do that first, then copy and paste into your text editor. Clear everything else away, and just write. Focus will improve your writing and remove a lot of friction.
    • Forget perfectionism. This is the biggest roadblock for many bloggers. I’ve talked to newer bloggers who will spend days crafting a post, but the result is they post infrequently. Let go of the need to get it perfect. Instead, focus on getting it out. You can improve it later (see the next tip). If you find yourself trying to be perfect, imagine that I’m sitting next to you, about to punch you for being a perfectionist. Let go of this need, and the imaginary Leo now gives you a big smile, and leaves to go write a post.
    • Publish quickly, then fix. This is a bit unconventional and may not work for everyone, but it works for me. Often I will paste the text of a post into the WordPress editor, format a couple of sub-headlines in bold, write a quick headline, and then publish — without putting in links, without editing or proof-reading. Then I’ll post it to Twitter, and know that I will get some readers very quickly. Finally, I’ll go and add in the links, proof-read, make some edits. The reason for doing it backwards like this is that 1) I’ve gotten the post out there, as frictionless as possible, and 2) it gives me a little incentive to work quickly to get things right, as I know people are already coming to read the post. It’s a weird method, but again, it forces me to be fast and frictionless.
    • Pick the first photo that works. I like to have a nice image to go with my posts. It adds a nice visual element, draws the reader’s eye, sets the mood for the post. But I can spend a LONG time looking for a good photo. So lately, I just pick the first one I can find that fits my standards — not the best one.
    • Format simply. Some bloggers put in a lot of bolds and italics and other more fancy formatting. I try to avoid overdoing that stuff. I use bold to highlight certain items and sub-headlines, but that’s mostly it.
    • Write a good headline. OK, this is one thing you should do well, because you shouldn’t change headlines after you publish (it’s confusing). And a headline is important. That said, don’t agonize or take too long. You’ll get better at this as you go, especially if you look at how the best headline writers do it, but for now, just write the best one you can within a minute or two. List a few different versions, quickly, and pick one. Then be done with it.
    • Fear of sounding dumb. This is a real fear, but you can’t let it stop you. We all sound dumb sometimes (or a lot of times, in my case) — it’s unavoidable. But you have to put yourself out there, or you’ll never interact with others on topics you care about, you’ll never get better, you’ll never get anywhere. Sound dumb, and have fun doing it.

    Time to publish this post, from first word written to pressing “publish”: 25 minutes.

    About the author

      Leo Babauta

      Leo Babauta is the blogger behind the superblog, Zen Habits, which is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of life.

    • ex700 says:

      thanks man alot of great info here now i just got to apply it. off to work now….

    • Dian Reid says:

      this post has been extremely helpful to me this week…cheers to blogging away, publishing, and then worrying about the details. thank you!

    • Interesting perspective, Leo. I always appreciate your posts on blogging.

      My qualm with editing after publishing would be this: It takes a while for the reader to update any changes and that’s how many, many people read your blog post! So even if you edit soon after publishing, it won’t change in the reader for quite a while.

    • geld lenen says:

      Exactly! Blogging isn’t different from anything else in life!

    • JP says:

      I often publish then correct later because Blogger is incapable of really showing WYSIWYG and there’s a lot to fix there! When you have followers, how often do they get word that you have a new post if you fix it 20 times? What about if you fix it on different dates?

    • wildwoodwaitress says:

      Hi Leo,

      Just found your writer’s blog, and I am enjoying it and its variety.

      I want to comment on this one and, in particular, on the suggestion of write now, write it fast and correct it later.

      I see this as a disservice to both the writer and the reader. Writing is a discipline. This means a carefully reviewing what you’ve written and making changes, corrections and polishing the piece before submitting it for publication. Sure this takes time. I often let even small pieces sit overnight and scan with fresh eyes the next day. It makes a difference in the quality of what I produce and boosts my confidence as well as my skill.

      I know blogs are sometimes quantity over quality. My training and experience (more than 30 years) says quality trumps quantity.

      My boss and editor would encourage me to create a backlog of stories so I had material at the ready. Material that was polished and cured and ready for publication. It was a good idea then and I believe it’s still a good one.

      If the copy you’re putting up is constantly in need of tweaking and correcting, readers eventually will go elsewhere.

    • Myrrh C. says:

      I’ve started writing on paper again and then typing it to my blog (which is when I polish, but not overly so). Have you read The Phenomenology of Writing by Hand?

      http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/short/phenom.html

      I also blogged about my struggle with writing vs. performing here:

      http://savouringgrace.com/2009/03/08/writing-or-performing-with-words/

    • JJ says:

      I just attempted my first frictionless post. It was fun…besides what is the worst that can happen…no one will read it…wait….that happens already. You have my Fattitude of Gratitude.

    • Leo,

      As a very new blogger with limited blogging time (mother of 2 young children), I really appreciated these useful tips. I’m already just using TextEdit to write. I’m working on letting go of perfectionism.

      Thanks,
      Sony

    • Awesome post Leo !

      I think a lot of bloggers deal with these issues including myself.
      Spending too much time on finding the perfect picture, getting the words right, etc is something I also have to let to go. Less worrying of what others think of my writing, but just getting the message out there.

      I think the more experienced you become, the more you let go of perfection.

      I’m inspired by your frictionlessness

      Klaus Tol

    • dr aletta says:

      A lot of your suggestions/ideas I learned the hard way. One I learned from you–using a word processor to minimize distractions. Just doing that boosted my productivity 100%.

      The Imperfect Blogger
      http://tinyurl.com/ykmvyq3

    • Eric C says:

      Hey Leo,

      I’m half on board for this post. I agree with the idea of Frictionless blogging, but dislike your argument behind it. (And still think a simplicity, minimalist focused person with four blogs is a pinch ironic)

      I think if someone wants to craft a proper, beautiful blog post, let them. If someone wants to spend days crafting a post, go for it, as long as they keep moving forward. As long as someone posts regularly, be it twice a day or twice a week, take as long as you want on your posts. You only have your reputation. I’ve been told the writing on my blog is good, and that is the best compliment I can get.

      On my blog, we publish three to four times a week, and with that schedule I know what it takes to get each post up to my standards, and that takes a lot of time. Now, for guest posts, I think I may be stuck in rewriting, but that is a different issue.

      And again, many of the tips were very good, just Leo’s writing philosophy isn’t my philosophy.

    • Antonio says:

      Oi Leo,

      Revejo-me totalmente no teu conceito de blogger. É isso mesmo, “keep it simple and straight to the point”. Sigo as tuas dicas que me parecem ser as mais razoáveis se queremos ter um blog de sucesso.

      Um abraço e obrigado pela contribuição.

      António

    • I donot think blogging have good future.Those who have no curiosity,no love of life they are making wild noise on blog.Internet killed newspaper,, magazines, but did not given good alternative,that is real tragedy of writing and publishing.Iam in publishing and writing vocation,As Internet came joy of writing and publishing diminishing.Writing blog means write for yourself and read for your amusement.There is one universal joke that write a blog your mother might read it if not you read yourself and be enjoy.

    • Dana says:

      Frictionless Blogging means missing some great opportunities. I’ve found myself waiting for the write time to edit, while deep inside I know that such a time doesn’t exist. No more…

      Thanks!

    • I needed this post. Thank you, Leo.

    • Iam blogging on open salon from last four months. My experiences are very bad. All blogger who writing on that blog are shallow, not serious about writing. Most are writing on sex,dirty politics ,some tit bit subject, you received very poor feedback . WA, nice, wonderful these are their feedback. No one raise question no one argue with you.Everybody happy with you scratch my back, I will scratch your back.
      Serious blogger donot want praise, he want argument, debate discussion .Only self loving writing is boring.,

    • evenorbert says:

      I think I’ll try your “Publish quickly, fix later” method. I also falled into the “must be perfect” writing too many times, and I think it’s holding me back for a little.

    • Great points, certainly much food for thought. These are all things I struggle with daily. Distractions come from all angles. This really helps to put things in perspective and focus on the task at hand. Thanks for posting this.

    • I can completely relate with points 4 and 5. I was bitten by the perfectionism bug and would end up agonizing on a single post for hours and at time even days. After reading a couple of other blogs I began to realize that blogging is not about winning the Booker Prize, it’s about expressing your thoughts on a subject.
      Thanks once again for re-affirming my belief.

    • gina says:

      I know what you are saying is true, because the posts I work on the longest -“perfecting” – are not my best posts. The ones that seem to get the best response are those that are quick, honest, quirky and probably far from perfect.

      I love your ideas- am glad you focus on getting them out here for all of us to benefit from!

    • I like using 37Signals BackPack and have a page full of blog ideas. I add to them when I think of them so I always have a good list. But as with Leo, it’s most often not the ideas, but all the other things that adds friction. I only post once a week but can spend several hours just trying to get the right photo. I need to get better at this, plus it helps as you learn what to search for.

      I too tend to edit somewhat after publishing, getting it done, give it a quick once over, then post. Then come back the next day or something and fix anything that stands out. Then move on.

      I like these practical tips, very helpful.

    • Mark Lewis says:

      I think my biggest barrier to frictionless blogging is my inability to focus on my thoughts. Reducing the distractions by having a clean environment goes a long way to help with this. Great tips Leo!

    • @Leo,

      So, I believe then the critical thing is to fix it in time before feedburner is pinged that a blog has a new post, or another option could be, to delay sending the ping and giving yourself enough time to fix it? Is the idea to publish and quickly pull the post out and put it in draft and then fix it and republish it?

      And I guess whatever small number of readers see the post for that brief moment, we are saying that we are ready to bear the “cost of not-so-good impression.”

      Still trying to understand the concept a little better. I am struggling with maintaining the post schedule a lot.

      This is a very thought provoking post. You have brought a lot of great point to light.

    • janice says:

      Thanks Leo. These are great tips. Anything to get rid of analysis paralysis is good! I was blessed to be able to launch my blog with a guest post here, but the downside was that I then felt I had to deliver Write to Done-worthy, useful content all the time to a readership of passionate, skilled writers. Eventually, I got over myself and went back to trusting my instincts, loving my life and letting the lessons I’d learned as a mum, linguist and homelife coach spill over into spontaneous pieces. That’s what Mary liked about my writing in the first place and she’s a sound editor! Like you say, some posts are useful, some fade. Life goes on and I don’t want to miss out by blogging about life more than living it.

    • Thanks for sharing!! Once more what you wrote is what I needed to read!!

    • Catherine says:

      Thank you Leo for writing this just for me 😉

    • Alex Lim says:

      Leo,

      Thanks for this rundown, I like the idea about publishing quickly, then fix. This way could bring me on my thinking cap instantly since mild level of stress makes me focus more.

      I agree with the dumb part, I guess we should learn to laugh at ourselves sometimes and should not take things seriously. Anyways, it won’t happen every time we post. The thing is, the best way to improve ourselves is to listen from others and let us be challenged to commit ourselves to improve.

    • These are all excellent suggestions!

      I’m in a state now where I can crank some articles in the middle of an artillery barrage. Others require the isolation chamber. Depends mostly on how technically accurate they have to be. Technical accuracy is very, very expensive. Sometimes it matters. Often, not.

      @Mike: Writing, to me, is a “practice,” like law, or medicine.

      I wrote a longish post on “Publish, then Polish” a couple of months ago. I won’t link to it directly, but it’s pretty easy to find at Google. I’d enjoy some comments on it, see what others think. I wrote it before I got a lot of traffic, before I was doing any promotion at all.

    • @Ncee: Actually, if the RSS reader doesn’t check your blog’s feed before you fix it, you’re fine. So if I fix the post (formatting, typos, etc) within a few minutes, it’s rare that anyone will see the post in their RSS reader in its unfixed form.

      I’ve done this many times (including with this post), and it’s never shown up in my Google Reader unfixed.

      This is another incentive to fix it quickly after publishing — you don’t want your RSS subscribers to see the unpolished version.

    • Leo:

      I think the overarching theme to the points you made is attachment to outcome. People often freeze when they even contemplate writing because their imagination jumps right to the end product. Instead, they should immerse themselves in the magic of the process.

      It’s difficult to keep our minds from jumping to the end product when writing because — far more than most activities in life — the written word can easily make us look foolish and is somewhat permanent. Still, it’s no excuse for robbing ourselves of this rich experience.

    • Hey Leo,

      Great post. Very timely too. I was just struggling with some of these very issues today. I found myself saying, “I haven’t published in four days, what’s wrong with me!?”

      The best point for me was not letting perfectionism stop you from publishing quickly.

      Thanks for the encouraging words of wisdom!

    • Leo,

      Most of the tips make a lot of sense and I see how this distraction-free writing can help.

      However, I don’t think hitting publish and “publish quickly and fix” will work for any blog that has RSS feed. I believe as soon as you hit publish, in a little while RSS feed and emails will be delivered… I guess I am missing something here… because I haven’t seen any posts from your blogs ZenHabits etc. in RSS that have no links, messy formatting or missing pictures.

      Can you explain a bit more and how you use it?

    • Thank-you Leo, this was so timely. My blogging enthusiasm was beginning to wane, driven down by my fear that I am simply being narcissistic and not providing enough useful content for my readers (either of them 🙂 I still want to keep my focus on content (as you often suggest) but will try not to let the Perfect get in the way of the Good.

    • Excellent thoughts. I’m relieved. I do a few of these things now and wondered if I shouldn’t change my practice – you’ve put me at ease!

    • Great post! Such helpful tips. Thanks, Leo!

    • Leo,

      I really needed this. Because I write about writing and education, I have a horrible fear of making spelling and grammar mistakes. I know I’m only human, and these mistakes are infrequent, but it’s a big problem for me.

      Also, I spend far too long looking for pictures. It’s one of my favourite parts of writing a post, but one of the most distracting.

      Thanks!

    • Leo, thank you for publishing this! And so quickly too. 😉 I find myself running into every friction point you mention, from fear of sounding dumb to agonizing over pictures to over-formatting. I appreciate the great reminder that the point of blogging is to get the idea out there, and we’re not really blogging until we hit publish… so get to publish faster! Love it. Thanks, again.

    • That’s exactly the reason why I love Internet: you can edit after you publish.


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