Unstructured blog posts or videos can be highly entertaining. They’re unpredictable and feel organic, and if written well, can be a unique selling point of your video or blog. There are a handful of YouTubers who have a habit of going off track and sometimes ranting but are either so hilarious or have such interesting stories to share, that I don’t mind listening to them. But if done the wrong way, and this is the case for videos as well as blog posts, going off track can be awfully annoying.
The downside of going off track from your initial topic is that it may confuse your listeners or readers, and potentially put them off. There is however value in letting yourself go off track during the process of writing or vlogging. You allow yourself to brainstorm freely, and the most original ideas and insightful thoughts that are hidden somewhere within the deep layers of your mind can bubble up to the surface. It is a very different process than when you have a fixed structure from the outset. When you let yourself begin to write in a more freestyle mode, the resulting content is more uncontrived in nature and can feel more appealing to the reader or viewer.
If you want to make the best out of your tendency to go off track, while at the same time keeping the precious material you came up with, try these 5 easy steps:
1. Make use of the momentum
Every writer knows the joy that comes from being in a state of flow. Experiencing a level of intensity in writing, where the words seem to flow at a steady pace from your brain, through your body, into your keyboard, and beautifully appear on the screen. This doesn’t always happen, and when it does, we feel like we want to hang on to it before it slips away. And this is the correct instinct. Make use of the momentum.
This is the time when you are not censoring and criticizing yourself, but are totally focused on the topic you’re writing about.
While you’re in this state, keep on writing. Don’t be concerned about the structure, paragraphs, and length at this stage.
2. Chop your writing into chunks
If you’ve been writing for a while, you know what length you want your blog to ideally be. You’ll have a good assessment of what length is suitable to do the title justice. Let’s say that your target is 700-800 words, but you currently have 1,800 words. It’s not the time to delete anything – yet. Instead, identify the chunks of your blog that belong together. Chop off sections, group them into paragraphs, and then title them according to their content. Look at your content and pinpoint which chunks are so out there – philosophical bits that are highly intriguing, but merely provide a long backstory, and take up 60% of your blog post. Highlight these chunks. Do not delete.
3. Save the chunks
I was going to say ‘cut out the chunks but I revised it to ‘save the chunks’. Editing content and throwing it away hurts. That is why in Film there is a work division between Director and Editor. The initial creator falls in love with the content – and I don’t blame them for it -, but then there’s an editor who has the right mindset to dispose of clips that are not useful to the film. There are sentences or sometimes whole paragraphs that don’t serve the purpose of the blog post. But don’t think about throwing these out! This is very valuable material. Instead, save them for a different blog post. Let’s say that you are writing a blog post about ‘How to nail a job interview’. You’re getting ahead very well and you’re making many useful points on the subject, but you also talk endlessly about how the interview process is also psychological as well as about the ideal outfit you should wear to make an impression. So instead of just cutting out the content, how about cutting and pasting it into a different document? Cut and paste the sections into a separate word document and title these ‘Don’t Underestimate the Psychological Aspect During a Job Interview’ and ‘How Your Interview Outfit Makes a Strong Impression’, and voila, you’ve got material for two new blog posts.
4. Keep a one-liner
Switch out the paragraph or chunks you cut out with a one-liner that basically summarizes the content of the paragraph. Let’s say that in the earlier example ‘How to nail a job interview’ you have one step that says ‘Give the interviewer a warm and genuine greeting’. Here you can dedicate a line to write ‘Don’t underestimate the psychological aspect during a job interview. It is not just about what you say, but how you say it’. And stop right there. Save the paragraphs containing the details for your next blog post. The benefit of doing this is also that it will easily enable you to create a natural link to your next blog. You already have an idea of what material is directly connected to this blog post, and once you’ve written the next post, you can connect it back to the first one.
5. Continue and repeat
Assuming you’ve done this for all the paragraphs and chunks that you’ve highlighted, at some point you should arrive at a blog post with the ideal number of words. The quantity is okay, but you still have to connect the pieces, as the process of cutting out chunks have left many sections disconnected. Read through from the beginning. This time, avoid adding a new point of view, or completely new material. Instead, try to tighten the content. Focus on the transitions between paragraphs and smoothening the creases. Don’t worry if you go off track again. By now you already have a strategy to tackle this. As soon as you feel that you’re writing about things that only remotely connect to the title and to an extent that feels disproportionate to the whole post, chop off the particular content, save it to a different document and title it, but keep a one-liner in the original post.
This process can help you to reconcile your tendency to go into too many details and off track, with your desire to keep your blog posts structured. At the same time, you may end up with a valuable byproduct, which is pieces of content for your next blog posts.