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How to Narrow Your Blog Focus and Expand Your Sense of Purpose

Blogging around a theme for a specific time period - a month for example - can help you to generate new material.

It makes it easier to blog: to plan, to draft, to daydream, to read, to link, to edit, to write with a greater sense of purpose.

The constraint of the topic, the narrowing of the focus, acts like a prompt to the creative, unconscious mind, generating idea after idea about ways to explore it, to dive into it, to ask others to talk about it, to write about it.

Focusing on a theme a month has helped me to:

  1. Get creative, exploring one topic from a variety of angles over the month
  2. Read with a purpose, whether that’s other blogs or books I want to review
  3. Link with a purpose, to material that extends my understanding of the theme
  4. Encourage reader participation by setting a clear framework at the start
  5. Involve guest authors, by inviting contributions on a specific theme
  6. Stay interested and motivated in what I’m writing about
  7. Generate material that I can use for books and courses
  8. Develop my own understanding and appreciation of the topic
  9. Beat writer’s block: there are always more posts in my head than time to write them
  10. Plan ahead for a week or a month, knowing what I’m going to write about
  11. Stay on topic, without getting overly distracted by noise on the internet
  12. Enjoy a sense of purpose when I write

It might seem a conundrum but the decision to narrow my focus has helped me to expand my sense of what’s possible in terms of what I can cover in a month and how I feel about my subject, my writing and my blog over the course of the year.

Now I’m not claiming to be an authority like Lorelle Van Fossen but I was struck by a similar sense of purpose, authority and expansiveness in this piece on narrowing your focus:

The best part of blogging with a narrow blog focus is that I have less self doubt about my abilities and my ability to blog. I know my subject matter. I know it from a variety of perspectives. I’m constantly challenging my information, resources, sources, and expertise as I write on the subject from different angles and points of view.

(If any of you are thinking about your blog focus I’d thoroughly recommend  her article: Blog Struggles: Why Should Your Blog Have A Focus)

The shift to a monthly theme has transformed my blogging experience, and to be honest I find it hard to imagine this blog without it.  In some ways I know I’ll only be able to slow down and write less if and when I decide to drop the monthly theme and write what comes into my mind.

Which might be good for my time – but wouldn’t give me the same sense of purpose.

How does the focus of your blog affect your writing purpose? Have you experimented with different ways to narrow or expand your focus? What kind of difference does that shift in focus make?

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Comments

  1. Jasmin Tragas says:

    I really look forward to exploring this theme. I started blogging a year ago and 3 distinct themes have emerged (I think): life & purpose, social media, visual inspiration. I do wonder whether I need to split my “life & purpose” posts elsewhere. Will read your pointers and links above. Thanks!

  2. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Hi Jasmin, it’s not easy is it? Especially when blogging unleashes our creativity!

    I started with a coaching blog, then started writing here - and found my voice. Although I enjoyed the other blog I just couldn’t find the time or energy to run with two… so I’d counsel some caution if you’re thinking about splitting off and running with more than one!

    Multiple strands can work so long as there’s a unifying voice or set of values or sense of purpose… don’t you think?

    But Lorelle’s article is a great place to start - it’s part of a series on blog struggles including pieces on focus so you might well find some food for thought there.

    Best wishes

    Joanna

  3. amypalko says:

    I know you and I have discussed this in person, but it probably pays to share it here. The focus of my blog comes from a set of values that add up to my driving belief that everyone is special and should be appreciated for being so.
    I just love the themes that you choose for Confident Writing! I look forward to exploring writing with purpose with you this month. I have a feeling that it’ll resonate with a lot of your readers.
    Amy
    xx

  4. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Amy, I think value based blogs are the best sort of all. In fact it was sitting and down and working out my values - the ones I was expressing here, that underpinned my writing and my approach as a coach - that generated the themes I now work to.

    It’s definitely helped to shape and develop my blogging - and the sense of purpose I have in my work.

    All credit to Rosa who got me started on the values/themes idea. You see how alike we 3 are!

    Joanna

  5. Brad Shorr says:

    Joanna, great topic, again! I look forward to conversation about focus and purpose very much. These are challenging areas for me. My focus shifts quite a bit, and sometimes it feels as though my purpose gets lost in the shuffle. Terry Starbucker’s recent post on the topic really hits home.)

  6. Robert Hruzek says:

    You pushed my button, Joanna, with the first of your three ending questions. The day I discovered my blogging purpose was the day I discovered my voice.

    When I began to focus on the theme of “lessons learned from life”, overlaid with a storytelling format, it all became clear, as if the fog had parted and I could see the light ahead of me. (Sorry; I know that’s a bit poetic, but it describes pretty much what it was like for me.)

    It’s like looking through a telescope - you have to fiddle with the focus thingie for a bit, but when things are finally clear, oh, the things you can see!
    My purpose became pretty much laser-clear after that. Now it’s a matter of finding new and creative ways to explore the theme while staying true to it.

    Lots of fun, to say the least, especially when I get to meet so many nice people from around the world!

  7. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Brad, I think they’re challenging areas for all of us. I feel lucky to have fallen into a topic and purpose that works for me. I know it won’t necessarily always be so…

    The conversation at Terry’s site - his question and the conversation that follows - was very interesting, and revealed how many people are grappling with similar issues.

    Here’s the link for anyone else that’s interested

    http://www.terrystarbucker.com/2008/05/15/a-blogger%e2%80%99s-debate-%e2%80%93-and-a-request-to-join-in/

    Joanna

  8. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Robert, that’s a brilliant description of what it feels like when you narrow your focus, expand your purpose and find your voice! Thank you :-)

    Joanna

  9. Bo says:

    Focus really does help creativity. I work with a coach who will occasionally throw out a single word prompt, one to be used 10 days straight, no excuses. Last one was *pencil* and I ended up with a short story, an epigram, a poem about mental illness, a humorous poem, plus 5 more. I would never have traveled in so many directions without that simple focus word.

    Amazing how the mind creates. And it is great fun, too!

  10. Bo says:

    Oops, that only added up to 9. I really did do ten. :-)

  11. Jim Murdoch says:

    My take on focus is that my blog is like a series of snapshots. The subject is moving and I am moving. Like a photographer and his model neither moves especially far from each other, no two photos are exactly the same but they all have the same feel; these aren’t passport photos. So, I try and vary my angle but still stay true to my own voice, sometimes a close-up topic, other times a wide-angle shot. This requires constant refocusing. The question I keep asking is: How can I make this the same but different? My broader goal is to produce a consistent set of blogs (my portfolio) within certain parameters – I’m not going to suddenly start blogging about politics or knitting – but at the same time I don’t want to bore my readers by indulging my interests overly much. It’s a challenge. I had a friend once who took photographs of trains, his dogs and his girlfriend and that was it.

  12. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Bo, focus really does make a difference doesn’t it? Either the topic/prompt or the ‘constraint’ of the form. Thanks for sharing your experience with the ‘pencil’ prompt - don’t worry, the story works well regardless of the maths!

    Joanna

  13. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Jim, thanks. It’s a great analogy.

    The joy of finding your voice is that you can then explore different subjects through the same lens (to mix my metaphors…)

    I like the way you put it here:

    “So, I try and vary my angle but still stay true to my own voice, sometimes a close-up topic, other times a wide-angle shot.”

    That helps to keep things fresh for your reader, and for you, while retaining a consistent thread or voice that runs through and connects it all.

    Joanna

  14. diane says:

    Joanna,

    I see a parallel here with our school district’s insistence on teachers posting essential questions in classrooms. Though we may grumble at times, the EQ does help to give focus and direction to lesson and unit plans.

    This is something I should keep in mind while considering what to post about.

    Thanks for getting me thinking!

    diane

  15. Mother Earth says:

    I have been monthly writing and nutrition focused topics for years. It works! One post or newsletter outlining the topic and 4 feeding into the theme or related somehow. I felt that was enough for an email audience

    I applied that same logic to my blog

    Last month I decided to recap the focus ( which happened to be on being green ) on the last day of the month and found I had done 13 posts on the topic. I wasn’t particularly trying to do so many but the truth is - I actually ran out of time - i had so many things to write about - yet those 13 posts really got my name out in that arena and I felt it was a more focused month

    I plan to try the same technique this month for woman’s health

    good conversation here joanna

  16. Rosa Say says:

    Joanna and Amy, you know I am doing a little hula dance of joy to hear you both speak of values :)

    When the word ‘purpose’ pops up anywhere I immediately think of Ho‘ohana, to work with purposeful and passionate intention. When we Ho‘ohana, we are focused on that purpose so as to be deliberate with our actions; we are never going through the motions of busy-work. Ho‘ohana is a very individual pursuit, one of self-exploration. When it comes to blogging (or any writing for that matter) purpose keeps us focused, but as you brilliantly point out Joanna, in a way that actually opens up more abundance within a single theme, for as individuals we can bring so much to it.

    Still, our lives are so much richer, so complex, and I think that is where values come in, serving us so well. Our values determine our choices and behaviors in ways that we needn’t focus that intently on –they give us a sort of ‘automatic pilot’ that can be unconscious and innately natural. Our values are also familiar and comforting to other people in that we are predictable for them. Our predictability becomes something they can count on, and initially it was also what drew them toward us (or if we didn’t share values, why they decided not to stay); values are magnetic in their universality. To bring this all to back to blogging, values and purpose go hand in hand beautifully in that our purpose is for author/blog designer and the message we hope to convey, and values are for our community of readers to feel at home within as they learn and seek our coaching. Sure, we learn from each other, but the blog author sets our course.

    And you Joanna, are exceptionally good at setting course!

  17. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Hi Diane, I think we all grumble when we’re told we should or must do something!

    I’m intrigued by essential questions though - you mean a question that gets to the essence of the lesson plan (or blog post) - answering the ‘what’s the point’ or ‘so what?’ question?

    Joanna

  18. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Hi Mother Earth

    That’s a powerful illustration of how reducing your focus can expand your sense of purpose - and work in terms of reader engagement and ‘getting your name out there’.

    I’m following the women’s health month with interest.

    Joanna

  19. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Rosa, thanks for taking the time to expand on the connection between purpose and values. Your description of how values run through, colour and inform a blog is pure gold :-)

    It makes me think of Jim’s photographic lens, Terry’s view through a glass half full, or Amy’s kaleidoscope. They’re sharing stories, words, ideas and pictures through their unique view of the world.

    You might be interested in the penultimate paragraph of Lorelle’s post where she challenges her readers to think about their world view - she doesn’t use the word values as such, but this is very similar to what you’ve just described:

    “As you consider your blog’s focus, I want you to look at your entire life, all the threads that make up the tapestry of your life. They all make you, the resulting “fabric” of your life as it is right now. On that fabric you will find colors and patterns repeating themselves. Loudly. Vibrantly. Or possibly they are subtle and almost invisible, but when you look with fresh eyes, they start to stand out from the rest of the threads.”

    Fascinating, wonderful stuff

    Joanna

  20. Crafty Green Poet says:

    Excellent post and excellent theme to focus on. I couldn’t start blogging until I’d defined the limits of my subjects and its really useful to have those limits, though I blur outside the edges sometimes. So, my blog is: environmental poetry, opinion and reviews and crafts from reused materials, creative thinking for greener living.

  21. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim
    says:

    Each month I find myself enjoying the current theme so much that I’m sad to see it end but excited for the next journey. It is not easy to find a focus and stick with it. You are a shining example of how to do it successfully. There is so much value in every post, and tons of tips that I can instantly put into practice. As always I am very excited about this month’s theme.

  22. Jason Slater says:

    Writing with a purpose certainly gives a better sense of focus and I believe a regular theme helps engage readers more - mind you I cannot resist the temptation to pop some posts on my Blog as and when they come into my head.

    On my Blog I try and combine the two, things that grab my attention or interest me at a particular point in time but I also keep a particular theme in mind (which also helps for those inevitable times when not a lot happens!). These themes are then compiled into lists called “42 things…” which themselves act as posts.

    So far I have done:
    42 Things you should know about Networking
    42 Things you should know about Web 2.0 in 2008

    My next theme is Working from Home with Technology.

    Jas.

  23. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Hi Crafty Green Poet

    I think blurry limits are a good way to get our creative juices going! Thanks for stopping by - good to meet another Edinburgh blogger

    Joanna

  24. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Karen, thank you so much for the feedback, and for sharing the journey with me from one theme into another.

    Really you are a reader and commenter to be treasured (not to mention a great friend)

    You boost my confidence daily. Thank you.

    Joanna

  25. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Jason, it’s a constant juggling act as you say. If your blog becomes too purposeful it can become less fun, creative, spontaneous… I guess I use the themes as I way of writing with a sense of purpose, and also to make sure I’ve always got loads of things to write about. But I wouldn’t want to drop those things that pop into my head! (Actually it can be quite fun trying to work them into my themes…)

    Working from home with technology sounds like something I should be following… will pop over and take a look

    Joanna

  26. Hope Wilbanks says:

    Excellent post! I really enjoyed this one. Your blog is new to me, but I can see I’ll be around for a little while this evening reading more. :)

  27. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    says:

    Hi Hope

    Nice to meet you!

    Glad you enjoyed this post and whatever else you stumble across in the archives :-)

    Joanna