How I Blog at Brass Tack Thinking

How I Blog at Brass Tack ThinkingSo my friend Mitch Joel wrote a post a week or so ago about how he blogs, and he tagged a few of us misfits in hopes that we’d write one of our own. So because I’d hate to do anything to let Mitch down — he is charming, after all — here’s a post about my blogging process, which amazingly enough has stayed pretty consistent over the years.

My Philosophy

I write to discover what I think.

That’s a paraphrase of a quote from esteemed and outrageously talented writer Joan Didion. She’s amazing, but this philosophy really resonates with me and it’s been at the core of my blog from day one. Sometimes I have a definitive idea and the exercise is putting that into words. Other times I have a question I don’t at all have an answer to. Writing is as much an exploratory thing for me as a declarative thing.

My blog has certainly been helpful as a qualifier for people who want to work with me, including a big part of what landed me the gig with Radian6 back what seems like forever ago (and was actually in 2008) and my book contract. It’s a powerful marketing and positioning tool, and I deeply appreciate and value its place in my work.

But it’s never been a deliberate, crafted exercise in “what will make people hire me or buy stuff?” when I write. I suck at SEO, I don’t follow blogging “rules”, I don’t agonize over headlines like I should and I rarely pitch my stuff or write about the hot new thing or create controversy to stir some traffic. I couldn’t tell you what my traffic numbers are if you asked me, and that’s not humblebrag false humility BS, it’s seriously that I don’t know, because it’s not what I write for.

Writing is a form of exploration and expression for me that happens to also have business benefits because I’m moderately good at it. Blogging is a wonderful, shorter form outlet for thoughts. A testing ground for ideas, a way to communicate with colleagues and the community, a platform to have a voice (or the tiny illusion of one) in a very restless and noisy world.

Capturing Ideas

Evernote is my go to app for capturing ideas on the fly, because I can get to it from my phone or my iPad or my laptop and never forget where I wrote something down. It can be just a post idea, or a few full-blown paragraphs that come to mind.

Sometimes I do turn to my trusty Moleskine, because my brain works like this: In the early stages of a concept when I’m still brainstorming or thinking, I *have* to do it on paper. I don’t totally understand why. But once I get something to a place where I can outline the major bits, I can start typing. Before that, it’s got to be pen on paper.

I have 202 drafts in my blogging notebook in Evernote as of today. Most of them will never see the light of day, they were shards of ideas or aimless wanderings down dead-end paths. There’s a few hotheaded rants in there that aren’t worthy of publishing but were particularly helpful for purging a bit of energy in the moment (they sound downright silly now). Some drafts will die in the notebook. Others I’ll rediscover months from now and I’ll surface them again thanks to a spark of inspiration.

I find ideas everywhere. Sometimes it’s carrying forward with where someone else’s idea leaves off. Other times it’s sparked by a conversation started on Twitter or Facebook. I’ll think of something on a plane, in the shower (thank heaven for bathtub crayons when that happens), in the midst of reading a book, during a totally unrelated movie. I’ve learned from experience that if I don’t have a place to put it, I’ll forget it, so I write it down.

Sometimes I forget what I was trying to tell myself, or my own notes read like hieroglyphics. That’s ok. It’s better than losing the really good post idea because I was half asleep when it showed up.


I’m built on WordPress, but never EVER ever ever EVER write straight in the browser. I’ve lost too many drafts that way. I write in Evernote, then move it to the blog to format and post.

It takes me anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to compose a post, depending on its complexity and whether it’s a concrete thought or an exercise in making a thought concrete.

Sometimes I sit and write a post in one shot. Others I have to come back to a couple of times to get them clear. I wish I was the kind of person who could claim a writing discipline that manifests in a metered fashion, but I’m a bit different than that.

When Jay and I wrote The Now Revolution, he wrote 1,500 words a day, period. I write something everyday, but sometimes it’s personal. Sometimes it’s work work. And for the book, I would go days on end with nothing written and then bang out 15,000 words in a sitting (which drove poor Jay nuts when we were close to deadline). As a result, when I get in a writing groove for the blog, I’ll often write a handful of posts and bank them or schedule them for later. Because I know I’ll have days where writing for the blog just isn’t in my brain stream.

Once upon a time I was pretty disciplined about publishing 3 times a week. That’s softened a bit as I get a new business up and running, and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to a rigid schedule here or not. I like the freedom that comes from publishing when I’m inspired, though I know my blog gets more consistent growth when I publish predictably. My goal for this blog isn’t growth, though. It’s something different now. That’s another post.


I’m horrifically inconsistent about replying to comments.

For some posts, I’ll reply to each and every one. For others, I’ll reply to a handful here and there that evoke a response. Other times – though it’s sacrilege to say so – I don’t reply to any at all. It’s not because I don’t appreciate them or care about what other people have to say. It’s truly because work will distract my attention, or life or my kid or something else. I read them all, I just don’t always respond. I know that’s evil to some, but it’s part of the reality and inconsistency that comes with blogging when it isn’t your job.

As for promoting and sharing a post, I’ll do it maybe twice a day on Twitter (once during the day and once at night) and once each on something like Facebook or Google+. I don’t always remember to do that, and I don’t have a formula I follow. Some posts I’m super proud of and they garner good discussion, so I’ll share them more often. Others I’m content to just let be.

The reality is that most posts have a shelf life of about 48 hours. The ones that are the ‘hits’ are never the ones I think, and I’m always amazed at the ones people are still reading, commenting on and sharing many  months later. I don’t lose my head over trying to make every post a home run by blogger standards. Then it’s no fun anymore.

Lessons Learned

If all of the above isn’t enough for you, I wrote a post last August about a few of the Lessons Learned From the Long Blogging Road. I’d say they’re still true almost a year later, and you’ll note some consistent themes from what I’ve mentioned here.

Above all? Blog because you find something in it that you really enjoy. There’s nothing worse than reading content that’s been written because someone wants an ad click or a traffic number to show to their boss. The best blogs – even the ones successful by “traditional” terms – have a spark of something in them that brings them to life more than others.

The day I dislike the writing is the day I stop doing this. Perhaps I owe you an apology as a result, because I think you’re stuck with me for a while.

Thanks to Mitch for the nudge, and for being one of the good guys. Blog on, my friends.

  • jaybaer

    Terrific insight into your gift, lady. My favorite part of this is “The ones that are the hits are never the ones I think.” Ain’t that the truth? 

    Even though I do pay attention to headlines and that jazz, it still amazes me how sometimes you just catch lightning in a bottle for some reason. Or conversely, you put a post out that you really believe in, and it goes “thud”. That’s always a drag. 

    Now that I’m only writing once per week though, the dud ratio is down. It’s nice to be able to channel energy into one idea per week, rather than three. 

    One of these days, I need to spend 30 minutes with you and have you teach me your Evernote system. I’ve never been able to adopt that tech, and I probably should. 

    For what it’s worth, I’m really digging the new direction here at BTT. Totally differentiated from the rest of the gang. Bravo! 

  • Phil Gerbyshak

    Great advice not blogging right into the browser. If I’m on my laptop, I use Windows Live Writer for this very thing. If I’m on my phone, I just use the Notes built into the iPhone, then I email it to myself when it’s cooked enough to finish (sometimes never).

    Always good to see how others do what they do. Thanks for sharing it Amber.

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  • Ian Greenleigh

    There’s nothing worse than reading content that’s been written because someone wants an ad click or a traffic number to show to their boss.”

    Well, I can think of a few things worse than that–but your point is well taken :-) . I think we’re actually very fortunate that there *are no* formulas for blogging that actually work. Can you imagine a world where that was true? Passionate bloggers would succumb to the easy and the proven–so much amazing content would never see the light of day. 

    I’ll admit that I sometimes wonder why things I write aren’t getting the social validation I feel they “merit”. That’s the part of me that won’t be persuaded by my deeper understanding of the randomness of social success. It’s hard to turn off. But when I think of the people that reach out to me privately and tell me that something I wrote helped them in a meaningful way, I snap out of it.

  • 3% Conference

    Spot on, as always. One other thing I am amazed more bloggers don’t pay attention to is the design of their blog. Yours is a great example of an environment that tells the eyes: “Read me!” So many other blogs have so much visual clutter surrounding the post, it’s distracting and diminishing. No matter how great your thinking, if you don’t showcase it in an appealing way, it’s like serving a 4-star meal at a food court. 

  • DigiDame

    Thank you so much for sharing. What a wonderful piece. I am just reinventing myself at 64 years old after I life time in PR. After reading this I feel like I have missed so much. I started off as a journalist and after 11 years went into PR. Good money but not the rewards of writing. Thank you for bringing me home.

    Lois Whitman

  • Andrew Hanelly

    You may not respond to this, but you said you’d read it. On that note, thank you. This was a great post and it was nice of you to share this behind-the-scenes look at how you do things. I find it fascinating to learn how people I admire operate.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post! I’m not in to blogging but i follow different blog sites.I’ve learned from them that there are many other worth things to learn.

  • Rob Thomson

    Thank you for sharing with us your blogging and writing process. It is refreshing to see this kind of transparency. It is one of the reasons I follow your site. I use SpringPad and I have so many bits and fragments of thoughts in there that I know the majority of them will never be used. Good to know I’m not alone. Thank you!

  • Tommy Walker

    I love that “write to discover what you think” so often we can’t organize our thoughts until we put them down on paper, and that it’s an exploring process for you says so much :-)  

  • Marshall Kirkpatrick

    Thanks for this Amber; I’m a recent convert to Evernote and am excited to use it the way you describe.

  • Sandi Amorim

    I love hearing how others do things and always pick up nuggets of wisdom this way, so thanks for sharing! 

    Lots of similarity to how I write, but I don’t use Evernote and like @jasonbaer:disqus I’d love a lesson :)  

  • SocialBookMarking

    This is really informative, Thank you for sharing 

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