Prison Break: Lessons on Blogging
This guest post is written by Christine Kayser, the co-founder and writer for MovieSnobs.net, a movie news and review site. E-mail her at christine[at]moviesnobs.net to talk about new movies, The Wizard of Oz, or how talented Wentworth Miller is. I think she really captured the spirit of this sort of accidental series I’ve created and I really enjoyed the post even though I’ve never watched a full episode of Prison Break so I figured the rest of you would enjoy it as well.
As a fan of Ben’s posts about TV’s lessons on blogging (and a subscriber to the Blogging Experiment RSS feed), I suggested in the comments for The Office: Lessons on Blogging that Ben tackle the series “Prison Break” next. His previous entries on “Heroes” and “The Sopranos” were entertaining and offered a different angle on blogging-about-blogging. Unfortunately Ben doesn’t watch “Prison Break” and since I have a slight obsession with the show, I offered to take a shot at the post myself.
Careful Planning is Necessary
The first season of “Prison Break” was about former-engineer turned prison-inmate Michael Scofield and his elaborate plan to break his innocent brother out of jail. Scofield is an extremely smart man, and he knew that getting thrown in prison with the purpose of breaking out wasn’t going to be as simple as holding up a liquor store. He researched criminal charges and punishments to plan out what crime would get him placed in the same prison as his brother. The bank robbery he attempted while firing his weapon into the air landed him in Fox River State Penitentiary with his brother. In the planning stages, he acquired the blueprints to the prison and designed an elaborate tattoo with the blueprints hidden in the artwork. Every intricate detail in his full upper body tattoo was a clue to their escape. Street names, names of tools he would need, even a guide to the weak points in a wall were all hidden in the devils and religious images in his tattoo. Rather than jumping into what could be the most dangerous task of his life blindly, his every move was carefully planned out and backed up with research.
Just like Michael planned to break out of prison, you should be making plans for your blog. The blogging world is such an instant gratification kind of place that a lot of bloggers forget to make future plans for their blog. A blog strategy can be extremely useful for those times when you’re hit with writer’s block or a nasty cold. It can also help you capitalize on search trends by being prepared for major holidays and events. As a movie blogger, I plan out my calendar with the major awards shows, plus big movie-related holidays – horror for Halloween, romantic comedies for Valentine’s Day, and Christmas favorites for December. Preparing posts in advance and planning out a blogging calendar can make your writing time more productive and your blog more successful.
Be Ready to Think on the Fly
In addition to being prepared and doing his research, Michael has had to be able to think on his feet. More often than not his escape plans have gone terribly awry. Even worse, his plans are usually ripped to shreds leaving him just moments to create a new plan or risk being discovered by the guards. His plan in Season One had the inmates escaping with the help of a broken pipe in the infirmary, but they had to start from scratch when they discover on the night of their escape that the broken pipe had been replaced. This season Michael planned to escape from his new prison at 3:13pm – the precise time the sun hit the guard tower, temporarily blocking the guards’ view of the prison wall. After creating a diversion (a challenge for a fight to the death between himself and Whistler, the inmate he’s escaping with), Michael climbed out a window and down a rope ladder. Of course the clouds rolled in at the precise moment the potential escapees desperately needed the sunlight and they had to cancel the plans, climb back up the rope ladder, and think of a good reason why the two of them shouldn’t be fighting to the death in front of all the other inmates.
While your blog decisions won’t lead to a fight to the death (at least, I hope not), you will have times when you’ll have to react quickly. While a blogging calendar can help you be prepared for the future, you also have to be nimble enough to write about issues and events that are happening right now. Jumping on top of an event or news item in your niche can drive some serious search traffic to your blog. When we live-blogged an event surrounding the viral marketing for the upcoming Batman movie The Dark Knight, we had an influx of visitors who were searching for the answers to the internet scavenger hunt. If the event is big enough, the traffic can linger. That post has been one of our top ten posts for three months. One way to truly capitalize on these situations is to have a link to your RSS feed at the end of every post, or at least prominently featured on your blog’s home page. New visitors can turn into subscribers with just one click.
Network with a Purpose
Scofield knew he had to connect with the right people in order for his escape plan to work. He had to trust his cell mate Sucre in order to escape through a hole behind the toilet. He needed to get close to prison physician Dr. Tancredi to have access to the infirmary window that was closest to the escape route. Finally he had to convince the warden to trust him so that he would have an opportunity to launch the escape. He also had to avoid or carefully manage the people who could make trouble for him – Abruzzi the mafia man, T-Bag the untrustworthy sex offender (as if that’s not an understatement), and Haywire the schizophrenic. Throughout the seasons the people who Michael could trust and the people he had to be careful around changed considerably, but the concept remains the same. When Michael interacted with people in prison, he had a specific purpose for the relationship. Whether that purpose was friendship and teamwork or careful avoidance depended on what would best benefit his escape plan.
The same holds true for the blog world. You comment on other blogs, email other bloggers in your niche, and participate in social networking sites, but do you ever think about why you do these things? You should have a purpose for every blog interaction you conduct. Your comments on other blogs should not only add value to the conversation, but they should be a tiny representation of you and your blog. You have a chance to say something – not just leave a comment, but truly say something – every time you comment on other blogs. Don’t waste it and become one of those people to avoid – no one likes an abusive commenter or a fellow blogger that simply copies others’ content. Similarly, when connecting with other bloggers directly, don’t waste their time. If Michael Scofield had wasted John Abruzzi’s time, he might have lost his life instead of just his pinky toe. You need to bring something to the relationship, not just further your own agenda. For tips on networking with other bloggers, check out ProBlogger Darren Rowse’s series of posts on blogging relationships and Ben’s posts on striking up a conversation and not wasting your networking time.
Nothing is Impossible
After watching three seasons of “Prison Break,” you’ll know that you can plan a jail escape through a series of elaborate tattoos; you can fake the murder of the vice president’s brother; and you’ll know it’s possible to have a show called “Prison Break” continue after the characters have already broken out of prison, escaped from the United States, and been thrown back into prison in Panama. Like “Heroes,” “Prison Break” seems to be the most interesting when it’s at its most unbelievable points. Impossible escapes become possible with just a metal screw, some tattoos, and a little help from new friends.
The same goes for your blog. Nothing is impossible. It sounds cheesy and self-help-like to say, but there really is nothing you can’t accomplish if you work at it. Ben is a perfect example – he set out to earn a full-time income in 365 days of blogging. Last month he made almost $600 with 245 days left. You have to work on your blogging before anything will happen, but things will happen. You don’t need an elaborate tattoo and you certainly don’t have to rob a bank, but you do have to write – a lot. Write until you think you can’t write anymore, and then leave some comments on another blog. And then write some more.
I’d like to thank the Blogging Experiment readers for sharing in my “Prison Break” obsession, and I’d like to thank Ben for the opportunity to write a guest post for one of my favorite blog post series. If you enjoyed this post, come share my other obsessions (like Kate Beckinsale, movie soundtracks, and casting rumors) over at MovieSnobs.net.