This week, I’m happy to present a guest post from one of the stars of the judge program, Nik Zitomer. In addition to exemplary efforts as the “Judge Dad” of Georgia and a mentor to many judges, Nik is the author of The Elvish Farmer, a weekly blog about best practices in judging. I’m really pleased to have Nik here to share his motivation for starting his blog, and how he manages to keep producing great content every week! — Bearz
My name is Nicholas Zitomer, and I write a weekly blog called The Elvish Farmer. I started that blog with the idea that I wanted to capture some of the best practices that I had seen or been taught in the judge program. This way, I could create a repository of useful stories and content that other judges could read, or that I could point to for further explanation if I saw someone struggling with something. One of the blogs that inspired me to create my own was Bearz Repeating, and it seemed natural to reach out to Paul with the suggestion of a blog swap, as I feel our tones mesh well, and it seemed fitting since he was part of the inspiration for my own blog. So, with all of that said, this post describes my methods for maintaining and writing content for that blog.
The most challenging part of writing The Elvish Farmer week in and week out has to be keeping up with the schedule. Early on, I had planned on posting to it once every two weeks. That lasted all of zero weeks. I had a lot to say, and had started off by writing three or four pieces, so I figured I may as well release them weekly. I then bolstered that content a bit by soliciting some guest posts.
After the initial rush of content died down, I was left with the task of keeping it moving forward. This, as it turned out, has become quite a challenge. If you know me at all, though, you know I love a good challenge.
I have established that The Elvish Farmer will update weekly, and so, weekly content it must be. Every week, I write my post for the following week on either Friday or Monday. This gives me about a full week to complete the topic, as well as share it with my wife, who is also my editor and muse. She ensures that I’m not just spouting nonsense and that my grammar is precise (thanks, Karen!).
If, when I begin writing the post, I stumble across another tangent or topic that is intriguing to me, I’ll toss that onto my list of future topics. I may even write out a few sentences right then to give myself a head start when I get back to that one.
This is another large challenge, as keeping the topic fresh and relevant is crucial to keeping the readers coming back for more. I have the benefit of a very active and talkative group of judges in my state and region, and so I often discuss with them what topics they’d like to see. In the process of going to events and observing online interactions (judge forums, Slack, Facebook, etc.), I will occasionally stumble upon ideas for future topics as well.
I use a basic WordPress account to write the blog, and I’ll create a draft post each time I find a potential topic. These draft posts then function as a list of potential topics to flesh out further. It also serves as a visual reminder of how much content I may (or may not) have each time I visit the blog’s admin interface to post or write new content. It can get fairly stressful to publish a finished post and see that list dwindle, so I have incentive to keep finding new things to discuss.
If I’ve reached out to a potential guest writer, I’ll also create a draft post for that content, and include a reminder date at which I want to check in with them. Again, this is simply a way to use the blog tools themselves to keep organized and on schedule.
Thankfully for me as the writer of a blog, I like to talk. I treat writing for the blog as a way of reaching out and talking with some friends. I try to keep the tone warm and conversational. I am, after all, a judge just like you are. We share common interests and experiences, and I am offering my viewpoints or strategies based on those experiences. It doesn’t hurt that in my daily life I do have a writing component to my job, so it’s something I am comfortable with.
My process, as I alluded to above, is to take it piece by piece. I start with the seed of an idea or topic, and toss that in its own draft. If I have something in mind right away, I may quickly write a few sentences or a paragraph just as a future reminder about what my focus should be. Then, when the time comes around, I’ll open that draft back up, and begin an outline for the piece. You can see my outlines pretty clearly if you go back and look at the bold subheadings in my posts. This one, for instance, began as:
- Topic Selection
After I create the outline, I write a sentence or two for each bullet point. If I am in the right mindset, I may skip this part entirely and just begin to write for real. If I’m not feeling particularly inspired, then getting those guiding sentences laid out allows me to get my head wrapped around the topic enough that I can begin to expound on each of them.
After the first draft of a piece, I’ll let it sit for a day or so. I then revisit it with a fresh perspective and touch up any parts that have wandered off topic, or that simply don’t fit the piece. This can sometimes result in new topic spins offs, as I may have wandered into something fit for its own discussion. In those cases, it’s simple to trim out the part that doesn’t fit, and toss it in the draft of a future piece.
At this point, I usually have a fairly coherent post, so I’ll add an introduction and conclusion tying it all together, and hopefully bringing it “in message” with the blog. Once this is all there, I ask my wife (thanks again, Karen!) to give it a quick read-through for coherence and grammar, and it’s ready to go.
Once I post the piece to the blog, I need to ensure that it is visible, and not just to the few people that I suspect actually subscribe to the blog. The first step is to post on my personal Facebook page about it. I have used the customization options on Facebook to ensure that I have an “MTG” subgroup, as many of my professional contacts and family members really don’t need to see that I post to the blog.
After that, I will occasionally toss that same Facebook post in a few regional judge groups. I have recently cut back on this, as I’m hoping the blog is known to those who want to know about it. If any topic is interesting to someone personally, they can share it to groups as they see fit.
Once the social media posting is done, I go and update my thread on the judge forum. If you set your notifications for this thread, you too can get an email or a JudgeApps notification when I post!
And that’s my process boiled down. It can certainly get tedious, and it is a lot of work. The reason I keep coming back week after week is that I hear from judges like you (yes, you!) that they really appreciate having read a certain piece, or that they hadn’t thought of something in a particular way before. That is the impetus for all of this. I want to create a repository of great habits and techniques that the judge community has, and give us all a place to go to be inspired.