9 New Year’s Resolutions (sort of) for theatre bloggers
Terri Paddock is the founder of WhatsOnStage.com, StageFaves.com and MyTheatreMates.com, a portal for independent theatre bloggers. She also blogs at TerriPaddock.com, with coverage of her renowned post-show Q&As at plays and musicals across London and beyond.
I’m wary of New Year’s Resolutions, not least because I tend to be so busy at the end of the year and so pre-occupied with family over the holidays that I forget to make them until late January.
That said, it’s always helpful to take stock and that’s certainly so when it comes to theatre blogging. If you’ve got your website up and running, got yourself recognised enough to get onto PR lists and started covering shows regularly, you’ve already achieved so much. Now what?
Whether you do this in January or June, stop and ask yourself where you want to be with your blog in a year’s time. And what might help you achieve that?
Here are a few suggestions from me, with input from other Mates. You’re welcome to call them New Year’s Resolutions if you like!
1. Remember why you’re doing it.
What was your initial inspiration for setting up your website? Did you want to share your enthusiasm for the shows you were seeing? Hone your writing skills? Get free theatre tickets? Market your own related business? Use it as a launchpad into journalism or a job in the arts? Earn some extra cash?
Running a theatre blog can be a major commitment. It’s important that you keep focused on what you ultimately want to get out of it. Write your personal mission statement as a reminder. If there are aspects of what you’re doing that don’t serve that mission, stop doing them.
2. Track your time.
Focusing on your mission will make you more effective, but there are still only so many hours in the day – and you’re probably fitting blogging around a full-time job and other commitments – so you’ve also got to be ruthlessly efficient. I have a mantra on my wall: “Always ask: Is there a faster, better way to do this?”
To find that out, you first have to know how you’re spending your time. Do you already know how long it takes you to write a post? Source and crop an image? Share to social media? Sort your email inbox? Time yourself for each discrete task.
Toggl is an excellent free online tracker. At the end of the week, run a report with your time breakdown by task. Is there anything you can ditch because it doesn’t serve your mission? What surprises you for taking too much time? Can you create a better system? Is there a free online tool that could speed it up? (Hint: There’s ALWAYS a tool!) The next time, you do the task, set yourself a challenge to do it faster.
3. Learn to say no to press nights.
Once you’ve proved yourself to be a good blogger, press invitations will roll in. “There can be so many and if you accept them all, you’re likely to burn out,” says Kirsty Herrington of From Page to Stage. You can’t see everything. How many nights at the theatre work for you is a personal choice, but remember to give yourself a break. I’d also caution against feeling you need to recruit other bloggers so you can cover more. Even when you’re not seeing or writing about a show, that’s an awful lot of extra admin for you. Is your mission to be TimeOut?
4. Branch out beyond standard reviews (and news).
At least 95% of theatre blogs focus on reviews and, understandably, this is the easiest way to be offered complimentary press tickets. But, as veteran journalist and blogger Aleks Sierz notes, “Theatre reviewing tends to be quite predictable and formulaic. The structure and content of most web reviews are very similar to print ones.” Do you have a fresh angle or format?
A major temptation for bloggers is to add a news section. But endlessly regurgitating press releases – especially with virtually identical headlines and photos as countless other websites – won’t make you stand out and it’s no good for SEO.
Mix up this more standard fare with opinion pieces, video features or interviews. Ask to attend a production on the evening of a post-show talk – you’re welcome to come to any of the many that I chair and cover what’s discussed.
Even better for consistency, and no time pressures, create your own series using other materials. I created a series of posts called “What I Learned Today” that are some of my most highly trafficked years later. Aleks Sierz has a regular “Quote of the Day” from plays he’s recently seen. “I have one called 'Missed The Boat' where I talk about shows I've missed out on seeing, and go through the related playtext or cast recording,” says another Mate, Mind the Blog’s Debbie Gilpin.
5. Think about more than text.
Every post you publish should have a strong featured image, but don’t limit yourself to just one of the production shots the PR sent you. Supplement these with artful images and videos you take yourself (though not necessarily always OF yourself), embed show trailers, gifs or other illustrative posts from social media, and experiment with your own collages and designs using something like Canva.
Wherever your image comes from, be sure to check the file size before you upload it to your site. A common mistake is to chuck up high-resolution images that can slow page download and compromise your site performance overall. To resize, try (free online) tools like Pixlr or, for more than one at a time, the cunningly named BulkResizePhotos.com
7. Celebrate your milestones.
Managing the day-to-day is an accomplishment in and of itself, but don’t be afraid to be your own PR. When you’ve won awards, achieved your goals or hit other major milestones, shout about it. Mate Ian Foster last year celebrated a decade of his Ought to Be Clowns blog and marked it with a “10 Questions for 10 Years” series that attracted contributions from scores of theatre luminaries. And I’m proud that the MyTheatreMates site and members of our collective, including Ought to Be Clowns, regularly dominate Vuelio’s annual Top 10 UK Theatre Blogs.
Which brings me to my penultimate suggestion …
8. Join MyTheatreMates.
How many other bloggers do you follow on social media? How often do you promote their work? Theatre bloggers are part of a community, which works best when it works together. That’s the thinking behind MyTheatreMates anyway. I set it up to champion a wide variety of independent bloggers, publishing their profiles and selected work on our website and via our social media channels. If you’re already blogging about theatre regularly, you could well qualify. To find out more about joining, click here.
9. And, for the very last word…
I’ll revert to Mate Aleks Sierz. You’ve made it this far with your theatre blogging. Final resolution? “Simple: keep going!”