Tips for Creating & Maintaining an Editorial Calendar
If you’re a seasoned blogger, you likely know the value of keeping an editorial calendar. But, if you’re somewhat new to the blogging game, or you’ve been at it for awhile, but just haven’t gotten into your own groove yet, you might not have discovered the beauty of planning things out. So…allow me to inspire you to try something new today!
You’ve likely read other articles about the joys of planning ahead, but perhaps it seemed a tad too rigid to you. Let me start out by saying that there are many ways to create an editorial calendar and there’s no right or wrong way.
I’ve been doing this blogging thing for a couple of years now and it’s taken me awhile to figure out the best method for me. My method wouldn’t work for everyone, but that’s okay. My editorial calendar and process isn’t for everyone…it’s just for me! While I will share my method at the end of this article in case it might work for you, let’s start with a few basics to set the stage.
Why You Need an Editorial Calendar
Keeps you Organized
At the most basic level, a well thought out editorial calendar keeps you organized. You can plan to post on specific days for consistency and you can organize your posts so they are varied to keep it interesting.
Allows You to Plan Ahead
With a calendar of topics in front of you, you know what’s coming up so you are better able to plan your time and work ahead.
You know that slightly panicked feeling at 11:00pm when you have no idea what to write for your post that should go live tomorrow morning? Yeah…that’s what we’re trying to avoid.
When you have spare time in your schedule or if you set aside time specifically for writing content, you can look at your calendar and have specific things to write about. You will start having drafts lined up and ready to go. You can finish them ahead of time and schedule them to post for you, which helps you be consistent and reliable in your posting.
By brainstorming and planning ahead, you will have stronger, more thought out content. This means you’ll have meatier posts that will hook in your readers and have them wanting more.
For most of us, if we force something at the 11th hour because we have to, it’s not typically our best work and it comes through in your writing. Your readers will know you dialed it in and with the over abundance of blogs out there to read, you won’t stay in their feed for long if they don’t feel your heart is in it!
Balance Out Your Topics
If you write on several topics, you can vary your topics so you get a nice mix instead of a posting clump of this topic, then jumping to a clump of another topic. As they say, variety is the spice of life, so maintaining a calendar allows you to mix it up and not oversaturate any particular topic.
Tips for Maintaining an Editorial Calendar
Yes, there is a lot that goes into setting up your calendar, but once you get into the rhythm, it’s not that difficult. You’ll find you start to naturally plan things out, but as you get started, here are a few tips to keep you motivated:
An editorial calendar is organic
You can and WILL make changes. No one but you will see your calendar so don’t feel like it’s a commitment…it’s merely a guideline for you and only you. You can move posts around, delete them, or even change them at the last minute if you are struck with inspiration for a post you just have to write and share immediately. That’s perfectly okay!!
Organization is Key
The more organized you can be, the better you’ll stay on top of things. For some this will mean keeping track of ideas in a notebook that you carry with you everywhere. For others, using your phone to jot down ideas throughout the day is a better way to go. Regardless of your method, keeping your thoughts organized will make it a lot easier when you sit down to plan out your calendar.
Find the right system for you
As I mentioned above…my system took me months to hone. It’s the perfect system for me, but very likely may not be the perfect system for you. However, maybe there are elements that will work for you. Perhaps not…it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you find the system that works for you and stick with it.
Jot Down Ideas throughout the Day
Keep a notebook with you (or use your phone) to record ideas throughout the day…then when you’re ready to work on your calendar you’ll have a bunch of ideas to make it easier for filling in those days!
Decide on a Posting Schedule
Determine a posting schedule that works for you…daily? every other day? once a week? Be realistic, pick one, and stick with it. There is no right or wrong with how often you should post. What's more important is consistently posting, whether that's daily, every other day, weekly, etc.
Make Time to Work on Your Calendar
Each month, set aside time to plan out the next month (or if you’re really ambitious, plan out 3 months at a time so you have a full quarter of ideas ready to go!). Having an editorial calendar won’t work if you don’t take time to set one up. This past weekend, I planned out the next two months while on a plane. I brainstormed for about 15 minutes on topic ideas, then armed with those and other topics I already had on my list, I filled in my calendar for the next two months within 10 minutes.
Plan Brainstorming Sessions
Set aside time every now and then to do a good in depth brainstorming session. This is really the key and can make a huge difference in what you write about! Take the time to really focus in on your topics to come up with a list of post ideas for each category your blog about. That will give you endless ideas for future posts that you can use to fill in your calendar. I do this every other month or so and set aside a couple of hours to really allow myself plenty of time to explore new ideas.
Leave a Few Blank Days in your Calendar
This is optional and for those that like to write off the cuff. It's completely fine to leave a few blank days in your calendar if you like to write about ‘real time’ topics. No one is saying that you can’t have flexibility in your calendar. Remember, there are no right or wrong ways to set up your editorial calendar! Do what works best for you and if that means keeping a few days open for of-the-moment topics, then do it!
Editorial Calendar Options
These days there are planners and schedules and calendars galore! You won’t be at a loss for finding a calendar option that works best for you.
Most people like to work online these days and given that everything is connected - phones, laptops, tablets, etc. - it’s definitely a smart option.
Google Calendar is a excellent option for planning out your posts and it’s free! You can color code post titles to indicate different categories so you can easily see the variety and spread of your posts. Another bonus, if you write up your drafts in Google docs, you can attach it to the calendar entry to easily find your work in progress.
If you’re a Wordpress user, the Editorial Calendar plugin is amazing! Now that I’m on Squarespace I can no longer use this and it’s the one thing I do miss from Wordpress. This allows you to easily see what you have queued up and whether it’s in draft mode or scheduled for posting.
If you’re like me, you’ll likely go old school and use pen and paper. There are a LOT of options if you decide to do this and they range from hanging a big calendar on your wall, to using a Filofax or other planner system to keep track of everything. It doesn’t have to be expensive, you can find calendars on the cheap at any Target or Walmart. To keep flexibility in your calendar, jot down post titles on mini post it notes so you can easily move them around!
And finally, if writing topics down on a monthly calendar isn’t working for you, simply use a list format. This is what works best for me. I tried using a calendar format for months and never stuck with it. Instead, I’d write out my topic ideas in a list and that just works better for me. So…don’t feel tied to a calendar if that isn’t working for you! You can maintain your list in a notebook, your planner, or on your phone/online!
I’ve tried all of the above when it comes to maintaining an active editorial calendar, but what works for me is a mix of old and new. Let me walk you through my process and maybe a few things that work for me will also work for you!
I use Evernote religiously for keeping track of my blog post ideas and for writing up drafts.
I have a folder set up for blog topic ideas and within that I have each category I write about as individual pages. When I have new ideas, I go to the page for that category and just add it to the list. Once I write about the topic, I delete it from my list.
Every couple of months, I set aside a few hours on a Saturday and dedicate it to brainstorming. Once I have my list, I dump it all onto my pages in Evernote, so I routinely have a treasure trove of topic ideas to pull from.
Related Topic: 7 Quick Ways to Brainstorm for Blog Post Topics
Filling in My Calendar
Around the middle of each month, I start to think ahead for the next month. I pull out my notebook, open up my Evernote to the topics folder and start filling in my calendar.
Usually it ends up being a mix of brand new ideas that are floating around in my head and those that I’ve previously thought of during a brainstorming session. I spread them out so I don’t have too many similar topics back to back (i.e. I don’t want to post 3 travel posts in a row).
I use my Filofax to keep track of my actual editorial calendar and like I mentioned, I prefer a list format. I also keep track of the status…draft, edited, photos, scheduled, etc.
Once I have my topics on paper, however, I’m not quite finished. I hop into Evernote where I create a blank page for each topic I plan to write on that month. I have a separate folder for Posts in Progress. Within that, I have folders for each month of the year.
This is where I create a page for each topic for the month. Since I usually already have some ideas for most of the topics, I’ll add those to the pages for reference. This comes in handy once I get to writing the draft post.
When I sit down to work on content, I open the folder for the month I’m in (or the next month if I already have drafts written for everything in the current month). I always start with an outline to organize my thoughts. Sometimes in my content writing sessions, I’ll create quick outlines for a bunch of the topic ideas. Other times, I’ll pick whichever topic is speaking to me and get to work. If I already have an outline, I start in on the writing. If I don’t have an outline yet, I create that first, then start writing.
In the title, I order them by the date I plan to post them, and I use a little system so I know how far along I am on each topic. If it’s done and either scheduled or live, it’s noted with 3 stars. If I have the draft written, but it’s not edited, I note it with 2 stars. If I only have the outline done, I note it with 1 star, and if I’ve done nothing on the topic, there are no stars. This allows me to quickly see what needs to be done.
Sometimes I have ideas pop up for other topics that I might want to post about during the month, so I include those in my month folder as well. This gives me flexibility if I’m not feeling one of my topics as I go along. I can swap it out with a topic that I’ve already outlined or started writing. If I don’t use it that month, I drag it to the next month and it gets worked into the next month’s calendar.
I hope you found this inspiring! My method is definitely not fool proof, but it keeps me organized and on track. Regardless of what system you use, I strongly encourage you to find a method that allows you to work and plan ahead. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it makes it to blog when you’re also busy with a full time job or school.