(Hey there! This post is Part 3 in a series on writing faster blog posts. Read the other posts here.)
The other day, I had a blog post to write for another brand. I timed myself; from the moment I sat down, without a single idea, to the moment I hit publish on a polished 700 word post with several rich examples included, exactly 60 mins had passed.
During this hour, I brainstormed potential topics, picked one, researched it, wrote an outline, drafted the post, edited the draft, and added example images and links.
There is no way I could have stuck to this time frame a year ago. One year ago, it would have taken me nearly an hour just to write the draft; researching, editing, and finding examples would have meant adding another hour or two, at least, depending on the subject. Or I would have kept the post much shorter in order to have extra time for the other parts of the process.
Last summer, I began to study the world of fiction to see what bloggers could learn from the way prolific authors write. After all, what’s a few blog post per month compared to writing a 90,000 word novel every year – or even more than once a year? And yet, that’s exactly what many authors do.
As I did my research, a few things stood out to me:
First, these authors took time to get their thoughts in order before they sat down to write. (Outlining is a hotly debated approach in the world of fiction, but from my reading, many prolific authors use some form of outlining to prepare for writing.)
And second, they did whatever they could to maintain momentum and write quickly, recognizing that the speed at which they could get words on the page was directly tied to how quickly they could get a new book – their product – into the market.
Well, that begs the question, why don’t more bloggers worry about their writing speed? For years, I personally never gave it a single thought!
If your brand’s blog publishes a new post every week, at 1,000 words per post, that’s 4,000 words per month – plus perhaps another 1,000 worth of social media content and email blasts. When you’re running a business, even that much feels impossibly overwhelming, doesn’t it? But many authors today write several times that much each month (1,000 to 3,000 words each day is a typical goal), not even including the blog posts and marketing they do to promote their brand.
And yet, despite the clear parallels between author work and content marketing work, not many people were making the connection and learning from these authors.
I set out to write this series and put these authors’ tips into practice. Two books – 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron and 5,000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox – gave me a ton of insight, and I recommend them to anyone, not just authors.
But in this series, I’m sharing specifically how I’ve used advice for authors to become a faster and better blogger.
In Part 1, I talked about the importance of extending the research phase and making sure you know how your post fits into the wider ecosystem of content in your niche; in Part 2, I shared how outlining can help increase your speed, as well as the exact outline I use for nearly every blog post.
Finally, in this post, I’m tackling the ultimate bottleneck: physical writing speed. Because no matter how good your research and how detailed your outline, you will never be able to write faster than the physical constraints on your writing ability.
In this post, you’ll learn:
- How to cut out all distractions when you write (and why you need to)
- The power of sprinting
- The single [FREE] tool that has made the biggest difference in my writing productivity this past year
- How to track your writing speed (and download a free spreadsheet I made to help you track it)
- The beauty of an ugly first draft
- And editing best practices for blog posts
Go ahead and get that blog writing speed tracking spreadsheet now.
Before we jump in, can I just tell you something? I am not a full time blogger. In fact, I’m a full time toddler wrangler. (I just realized that makes me sound like I’m good at it. Nope. I’m winging it!) The point is, I like to bake cookies for friends in the middle of the day and go for stroller walks to the park each afternoon; sometimes, my daughter and I just cozy up by the fire, snuggle, and watch cartoons together. But as an entrepreneur and corporate content ghostwriter working on multiple online brands, I can’t snuggle the day away without letting a lot of people (including my future self) down. I have to be very strategic about how I structure my time.
Here’s how a typical day looks for me:
- 5am to 8:30am – Work
- Morning – hang with baby girl, see friends, run errands, sometimes do responsible adult things (maybe)
- 12pm to 2pm (naptime) – Work
- Afternoon – more hanging out; park if it’s not too rainy (we’re in the PNW so that’s sometimes tough)
- 7pm to 9pm – Work
I cram a lot of work into small chunks when I know I will have uninterrupted time; that way, when I’m not working, I can spend time with my family and friends without feeling distracted or guilty.
That means efficiency isn’t just a buzzword for me. Solving this writing speed bottleneck – creating great content efficiently in short bursts of time – is not a nice-to-have. It’s, well, everything to me, because it enables me to live the full life I want to live and help provide for my family. Efficiency helps you do more with fewer resources; that means it’s a major factor in determining how you spend the moments of your life, and therefore, how you spend your life.
So, nope, not just a buzzword! And I can’t believe I didn’t know sooner about the tricks I’m going to share with you in this post. If I’d known, let’s just say it would have made the last few years of entrepreneurship a lot more fun and a lot less stressful.
Here’s how I sprint to write faster blog posts:
Are you ready? This is where all your mental preparation and your detailed outline come into play, and the rubber really meets the road. Also, I’m guessing that in the past, this is where you’ve spent the majority of your time working on a blog post. Using the techniques I’m sharing from now on, this should actually become the SHORTEST, easiest part of each blog post! Crazy, right?!
When your outline is ready and you’ve done your research, you’re ready to start putting real words on the page. But before you begin, consider this: Writing is very different than researching and outlining. You can do research on a phone for a few mins while waiting in line; you can jot down a few notes in your outline while you’ve got dinner on the stove. But the actual writing is the real creating part, and this is much harder to do. To begin writing your post, make sure you have at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time. Get some water, sit somewhere comfortable, turn off the TV (or put your back to it, with headphones on, if someone else is watching it), and put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb. In fact, go even further – put your computer on airplane mode or turn off its wifi. You can draft your post in a Word doc, and you’ve already done your research so now is not the time to be Googling things. (Got you, huh?)
Start now: Schedule a time later today or tomorrow when you will be able to shut off everything else for at least half an hour to write. No matter what comes up, during that time, you are not available to do anything other than write. Stay strong!
To write your first draft, do a series of writing sprints, no longer than 20 to 30 mins at a time, with a break to stretch your legs, check social media, get coffee, etc. after each sprint. If you’re a lot more disciplined than I am and you don’t share your working space with a toddler, you can probably do a longer stretch; but the point is, set a start and end time. This will create the sense of urgency your mind needs to stop daydreaming, pick some words, put them on the screen, and get to the point.
Start now: Open a document and make yourself type for 5 minutes straight, without stopping – if you get stuck, just write “….” and switch to a new paragraph and jump ahead to the next section of the outline, or write “[insert something about XYZ here]”. Later, you can search for the brackets and ellipses and replace them with what you want to say.
Track your pace and compete with yourself
Each time I sprint, I record the start time, end time, and total number of words written during that sprint. This practice does a couple of things: 1) It gives me that sense of urgency I mentioned earlier, since I am “on the clock” and I don’t want to record a terrible number because I couldn’t stop daydreaming or Pinteresting; 2) It gives me a way to evaluate that session compared to past sessions (Was I faster or slower than usual? If so, what did I do differently that might have caused the change?); and 3) It gives me a very clear picture of how much time I’m spending on each project. I use the same approach when I’m editing content, too.
This might sound like overkill, but if you are an entrepreneur trying to build your blog with content marketing, content creation is one of the biggest parts of your creative work. You wouldn’t launch a sale or ad campaign without tracking the results, right? You wouldn’t try to manage your family budget without tracking what you spend, or workout without tracking your progress, would you? Why should content creation be any different?
Start now: Download this blog post tracking spreadsheet I put together to help you track your word count and pace. Use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+; to insert your start and end time quickly.
Boost your writing speed by using speech-to-text technology
This is probably the nerdiest part of this whole post; and that’s saying something, I know. But the truth is, you will never, ever be able to type as fast as you can speak. Yes, speech-to-text is weird because you have to have to speak your punctuation, and you may feel like the world’s biggest nerd if someone walks into the room while you’re in the middle of dictating one of your blog posts (cough…not that I’ve ever experienced that), but the simple truth is IT. WORKS.
I use Google Docs speech-to-text for almost all content creation and it works like a charm. (Note: I’ve found it works better on my iPhone than my laptop, so that’s what I do for my writing sprints.) I have Google Drive on my laptop and my iPhone, so I can easily access blog post drafts in each place. For some reason, the dictation feature works better in a Google Docs format document (rather than docx) so I usually have a Google Docs dictation file for all my dictation, and then, when I’m done with a sprint, I copy it out of that file and paste it into the real blog post Word doc. But that’s just what works for me; you may be able to use dictation on your fancy, faster-than-mine laptop just fine. 😉
Here are a few of my learned-the-hard-way tips:
- Enunciate with extreme clarity: You cannot talk like you normally do and expect to end up with a clean draft. Enunciate each word very clearly and slow down a bit. It’s work but it’s still faster than typing.
- Speak your punctuation: “period” “comma” “question mark” “quote” “end quote” and “new paragraph” are the commands I use most frequently.
- Break it up: Start a new paragraph frequently; when you’re done, it will be much easier to edit a series of short paragraphs than a dense, mistake-filled wall of text.
Start now: Open a test document in Google Docs, enable speech to text (Tools – Voice Typing), look around to make sure no one is there to judge you, and dictate a paragraph of stream of consciousness thoughts. See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?
Make it ugly
This is the most important part of writing a quick first draft: DO NOT edit, reread, or reformat until all the words are on the paper / screen. Otherwise you’ll begin to second guess yourself and start to obsess over grammar and fact-checking, and the next thing you know you’ve been reading some random blog for an hour instead of writing your post! Yes, this happens to all of us! The important thing is to do the actual creating work, and get the initial words out there; if you’ve done your research and outlining well, it won’t be too much work to clean it up later. But if you get stuck trying to make each sentence perfect and checking the thesaurus every other word, you’ll never end up with a draft. Trust me. Let it get ugly; you can make it pretty when you’re done.
Start now: If you’re tempted to reread and fix typos as you go, switch your font color to white.
Fix typos and break it into short paragraphs
When you’re done with your draft, it’s time to edit. Start at the beginning and clean and polish as you go, fixing anything weird, rewriting, and breaking your wall o’ text into short, easy-to-parse paragraphs. This is important for legibility and dwell time (people will stick with a page that is easy to read), which is an important factor in Search Engine Optimization.
Start now: Break up your test paragraph from your dictation attempt into a few short paragraphs with 1-3 sentences each. Isn’t it easier to deal with now?
Add headings and lists
Once it’s polished, it’s time to do the formatting. Another important factor in SEO is the use of descriptive, organized headings. Don’t just make headings bold; use the actual built-in Heading 2, Heading 3, etc. formats for your blog post editor. These headings tell search engines what your post is about, and they also help with legibility and dwell time.
Now is also a good time to turn some paragraphs into bullet point or numbered lists, which makes them easier to read for someone who is giving your post a quick scan before they decide whether or not to read the whole thing.
Start now: Make sure you know where to find your built-in headings and bullets formatting in your blog post editor. In WordPress, it’s in the toolbar at the top of the text editor.
Add your examples and links
If you’ve stuck to the order of research, outline, write, and edit, you should have a solid, well-polished blog post by now. That means it’s time to add in the examples, images, and links you decided to include in the research and outline phases. I don’t add any of these things until all of the text is done, for two reasons: 1) Compared to the writing, this is the easy part, and I’d rather save my energy for quality writing; and 2) These can be a time suck and you might find yourself spending several minutes trying to hunt down “that one post”. If you do this in the middle of writing or editing your draft, you’ll kill your productivity, so I save it until the end and only add in as many links and examples as I can within my target time frame. If I have to publish before all the links are there, that’s fine; as long as the most important ones are in, I can always add more examples later.
Start now: Make sure you’ve got a good list of relevant links (both internal links on your site and authoritative external links) to share as examples, sources, and further reading as part of your post. Bonus points if you save your list in my blog post research tracker spreadsheet.