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How I Use an OCD Outline to Write Faster Blog Posts

Am I the only blogger out there who suffers from writer’s block?

(Please say no…)

I have spent countless minutes – and hours – staring into a bright, blank WordPress Post editor, racking my brain for the ideas that seemed so amazing and blog-worthy earlier that week.

I’ve bounced from my draft post to my depressingly ambitious publishing schedule to Pinterest to Facebook to the kitchen (need more coffee) in an endless loop of stalled writing, anxiety, and procrastination.

And I’ve forced my way through writer’s block with sheer mental muscle and stubbornness, dragging a mediocre post out by the teeth, only to get stumped at the end when I realize the post has no cohesive theme or argument.

And then, in the last year, I have managed to almost completely kick writer’s block to the curb. (I say “almost” because trust me, there are still days when my brain is just too fried to do any blogging!)

I’ve written countless blog posts for clients as a corporate blog ghostwriter, not to mention blog posts and other writing for my own projects – including writing one novel and half of its sequel. All of this writing adds up to well over 50,000 words per month.

And I’ve done it without becoming a full-time blogger or writer. In fact, actual writing is probably the work activity I spend the least amount of time on in my average day. I spend most of my time toddler wrangling, to be honest, and get my work done in the early morning and late at night while she is asleep.

In this new series on writing faster blog posts, I’m sharing all the things I’ve learned to help make huge productivity boost happen.

In fact, if you haven’t read the first post, go back and read it now – there you’ll get the whole story of how I got started on this crazy journey of increasing my writing speed.

In Part 2, I’m going to share my secrets for the second step to increasing your writing speed and becoming a more efficient, productive, and BETTER blogger: outlining.

You’ll learn:

  • How to create a winning outline that works with nearly every type of blog post
  • How to create an engaging post that pulls the reader forward – thereby increasing your dwell time, a crucial factor for SEO
  • How to wield your outline as a tool to prevent writer’s block from attacking in the future
  • And you’ll get a five pack of blog post templates in Word format, including outlines and writing prompts to help you get unstuck

In fact, go ahead and download that now.

Before we proceed, let’s answer a real question you might have: Why is it important to beat writer’s block? Or, more specifically, why should bloggers care about writing speed?

Surely if you take your time to write a good blog post – even if it takes a while – that’s better than throwing together some sloppy garbage blog post…isn’t it?

And yes, I do think there is an important benefit to taking your time, especially in the research phase – read more about that in Part 1.

But here’s the thing: The more time you spend writing a blog post, the less time you have available to edit the post and promote it.

It’s simple math.

If you have two hours to spend on a post, you can spend 118 minutes writing and 2 minutes giving it a quick share on Facebook or Twitter.

Or you can break down your two hours this way: spend 30 minutes outlining, 30 minutes writing, 30 minutes revising and polishing, and 30 minutes promoting it with networking emails, blasts to your email list, scheduling it to go out on multiple social networks, etc.

Which approach is going to generate more engagement, traffic, and backlinks? The second, of course!

But the second approach depends on you solving one crucial bottleneck: writing speed.

If you can write the same high-quality blog post in 30 minutes instead of 118 minutes, you’ll be freed up to edit and promote it well. But if it always takes you nearly two hours to put together a decent post, you’ll never be able to do it justice when it comes to promotion. You’ll always be forced to choose: either spend less time writing and try to promote a poorer quality post, or spend more time writing and do a good job with the post, but never see any real traffic from it.

In Part 1, I showed that extending the research phase to last weeks or even months helps to increase writing speed because by the time you sit down to write, you already have your argument and big picture context well-organized in your mind. DO NOT underestimate the power of thinking deeply about a subject before you start writing. This is the key to unique, insightful content that will stand out in the sea of noise and clickbait that surrounds you.

In Part 2, we’re going to take the same concept to its inevitable conclusion: outlining.

It’s a simple fact, and as soon as you try it, I bet you’ll realize I’m right: If you create an outline – even a very rough one – before you start writing, you’ll write faster.

But if you really want to achieve a 5x improvement in your writing speed (like I have this year), you’ll need to go far beyond creating a rough outline. I call it the “OCD outline” – taking it to the next level in terms of detail, points, sub-points, and more.

And in my experience so far this year, there is a very significant quantifiable difference between a rough outline and an OCD outline.

Here’s something I learned the hard way:

My first novel’s rough draft was about 70,000 words long, and I wrote it in September at an average pace of 4,795 words per hour based on an extremely detailed scene outline that was itself 14,000 words long.

But hey – it was a LOT of work to put together that long, detailed scene outline. So for the sequel, which is still a work in progress at 50,000 words, I decided not to make such a thorough outline. I knew where I wanted the story to go, and each time I sat down to write, I wrote down a few notes on what I wanted to happen in the scene. The writing pace for the sequel? An average of 3,451 words per hour. That’s a decrease of 28%! It’s still better than my original pace of around 1,000 words per hour (more on that in Part 3 so stay tuned), but it’s still a significantly slower pace.

But isn’t writing an outline just as much work as writing? Why not spend more time writing and not waste time on an outline?

Here’s where I’m going to say something that might surprise you: writing an outline is completely different than actual blog writing (or fiction writing). In fact, it’s way easier, faster, and less mentally exhausting.

That’s because when you’re writing an outline, you’re writing for yourself. You can get sloppy and lack clarity and you still know what you meant. You can say silly things and know you’ll never publish it for the world to see. You can write things like “Put a good argument on why outlines are easier than writing” without having to come up with the actual argument. You can pick it up and put it down fairly easily, making progress in short bursts here and there without having to get into a “writing flow”.

By contrast, real writing is utterly exhausting. It demands perfect focus, no interruptions, and at least 30 straight minutes to make any real progress.

Investing your time in outlining upfront will help you organize your thoughts and arguments without worrying about prose, creativity, or grammar.

Then, only once you know exactly what you need to write (and where and when), you can sit down to do the real creating and have it actually proceed quickly and [relatively] painlessly. (Again, more on that part in Part 3!)

Here’s how I use a detailed outline to increase my blog writing speed

When you’re done with the research phase, you should have the following:

  • A specific blog post topic
  • A few target keywords
  • A list of the blog posts that currently rank well for those keywords
  • Notes on the gaps or areas for improvement on each of those existing blog posts
  • Ideas on how you can make your post unique, powerful, and valuable to set it apart from what your peers are saying about the topic

Now you’re ready to make an outline!

Step 1: Start with a basic template

If you’re reading this post, you are probably interested in seriously improving your blog post writing speed. Which means you’ve likely read some similar posts, haven’t you? And let me guess…they all told you to increase your speed by writing from a template.

They’re right. Do it. Writing from a template is the way to go.

I know, this sounds boring and formulaic. How can true creativity and quality work come from essentially copying what’s already been done?

But here’s the thing: using a template does not mean you can’t be creative. It just gives you a way to channel your creativity for the greatest possible impact.

I follow the same basic three-part structure for nearly every blog post I write. Here’s a rough outline:

  • Opening – establish common ground and present a problem
  • Solution – detailed list of arguments, advice, or explanation around the solution
  • Closing – wrap up, call to action on how to engage further

If you don’t have an idea of what you would say in each of these parts for your blog post, it might be a good idea to stop here and go back to the research phase.

Here’s what I mean:

Without a statement of the problem your post will address, why would anyone read your post?

Without a clear solution of some kind, what real value do you add? Is your post just a glorified social media status update?

Without a call to engage further, what has your post accomplished for your brand? You may bring in traffic, but once they leave, how will you get them to return?

Start now: Grab a notebook or sheet of paper and draft a sentence for each of the three parts of your blog post. If you don’t think each part is compelling, go back to the research phase for a day or two and see if you can identify more ways to set your post apart from what’s already out there.

Step 2: Build out a detailed, OCD outline

Once you’re sure your basic opening, solution, and closing are compelling, you’re ready for the real outline.

Once again, I’m going to suggest using a template. Why re-invent the wheel each time when you can make your life easier – and make your blog post easier for your audience to parse and understand?

Remember, the average visitor to your website isn’t devoting 100% of their focus to your blog post. They’ve got kids running around, dinner on the stove, the TV in the background, and their phone buzzing every couple of seconds. The more you structure and organize your post, and the clearer you make it, the more likely your visitor will be able to get through the whole thing and actually get something out of it.

It’s also important to use various hooks to build rapport with your reader and pull the reader forward so that they actually want to keep reading and find out what you have to say. This will help increase your dwell time, which in turn will help your SEO (in addition to the obvious benefit of getting people to actually listen to what you have to say!). I do this by sprinkling in anecdotes, empathy, back story, and previews of what the rest of the post will contain.

Here is the detailed template I suggest:

Part 1 – Opening

  1. Opening anecdote
    • Share an experience that you most likely have in common with your target audience; get personal, make them smile or say “I have totally done that!”
    • Present The Problem – what problem does your blog post solve? Usually the anecdote leads into this
  2. Key takeaways:
    • “In this post, I’m going to share” or “In this post, you’re going to learn” – and list out a few sentences or bullet points
      • This is important because a busy person needs to know as soon as possible why they should stick with your post!!
  1. Back story / context
    • “But first, …” back story – stop and explain where you’re coming from and why they should listen to you, or address common myths/misunderstandings about this topic
      • This is where your research on the other posts that rank for these keywords will come in handy. Show how what you’re proposing is different than what’s already out there.

Part 2 – Solution

  1. Introduce your solution
  2. Each step or part of your solution (3 to infinity sections)
    1. For each part of your solution, provide a mix of explanation, examples, and practical takeaways or action steps

Part 3 – Closing

  1. Final thoughts on the problem and solution you’ve addressed
  2. Call-to-action on how they can engage with you further (email list, other related blog posts, content upgrade)

Sometimes, especially if the call-to-action is a content upgrade that I think they’ll find super helpful, I repeat it a few times throughout the post to make sure that no one misses it.

Start now: The next time you have a few free minutes, copy this outline into a new document or blog post draft and fill out as much of it as you can. Keep your writing simple, casual, and basic at first – the most important thing is to just get words on the page. Once you’ve filled out the basics and you’re feeling inspired, add a few more details. The important thing with the outline is that you make it easy on yourself, since you’re saving your energy for the real work – writing and editing. You can also download this five pack of blog post outlines with ready-made writing prompts. These are especially helpful if you feel stuck in the research phase and need a bit of prompting to make your way out.

Step 3: Plan your content upgrade (optional)

What is a content upgrade?

The content upgrade is an important tool for creating a compelling call-to-action at the end (or midway through) your blog post.

Rather than simply saying “Like this post? Sign up for my email list!”, a content upgrade is an incentive you can offer in exchange for signing up that allows an interested reader to go deeper with the content on your particular blog post.

For example, in this post, I’m sharing a five pack of blog post outlines with topic-specific writing prompts in exchange for signing up for my email list. Since I figure anyone reading this post is interested in learning how to write outlines for their blog posts, I am offering a tool to make their lives easier – ready-made blog post outlines – as a way to “upgrade” their experience with this blog post.

In Part 1 of this series, for a content upgrade I offered a blog post research tracker spreadsheet to help readers organize their notes on keywords and competition in search results.

The content upgrade doesn’t have to be a huge ebook or project that takes you hours to create. I often find it most effective to just offer things that I’ve already created for my own use, knowing that if I found it helpful, chances are other people will too.

If you can think of a good content upgrade to go along with your blog post, go ahead and plan it now while you outline. Sometimes content upgrades take extra time and work to create so it’s a good idea to get a head start.

Start now: brainstorm a list of potential content upgrades for your blog post. If you’re stumped, go revisit some of the “competing” posts that come up in search results and see what kinds of things those bloggers are offering.

(The content upgrade isn’t really related to solving your writing speed bottleneck, but I’m adding info on it here because I know from [painful] first-hand experience that if you don’t get a jump start on creating it, the content upgrade can end up being a bottleneck of its own.)

Whew! That’s it! Stay tuned for Part 3 – How to write like a sprinter.

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2 thoughts on “How I Use an OCD Outline to Write Faster Blog Posts

  1. Hello. I’ve been on your site a few times now and am very impressed with the content and quality. I’ve been trying a few of your free blog templates but will sign up so I get the rest. Thank you.

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