I used to labor over blog posts, especially when I wrote for my own blog, which included selecting and editing photos. But now that I write for clients, I’ve developed a process for writing fast.
I’ve had to, because I’m either writing by the hour (and I want to give my clients a fair price) or charging a set fee for the post.
There are several elements to writing a post in record time. It definitely helps if I’m familiar with the subject matter. There’s no way I’m writing about nuclear physics or gene sequencing. Still, even if I don’t know the topic, if it’s within my grasp, I can write about it. As a journalist, I’m used to dealing with stuff I don’t know about. I’m nosy by nature, and I enjoy learning new things.
But I digress. Here’s how I write a 400- to 500-word post like my pants are on fire:
- Researching: Unlike this post, which I’m writing off the top of my head, I often have to research the subject. One of my clients gave me a list of sources to use, most of which are government sites. If I use other sources, I make sure they’re legit. No Wikipedia or questionable news sites. For a short blog post, I usually research for half an hour, jotting down information in a Word doc, pasting the URL to reference in a citation. Once I have enough data and sources, it’s time to write. Note: If I’m writing a post based on an interview, there isn’t much research needed. So in addition to a 30-minute interview, I allot time to review my notes and verify quotes on my tape recorder.
- Writing the lead: This often takes me the longest. Starting a post can be hard, and I don’t want to use the same structure or a similar lead as last time. I’ll go through several iterations, maybe write a few different introductory sentences. I often put the word (FIX) next to any sentence or thought that needs help, so I can move on and come back to it later. I hate to admit it, but sometimes writing the intro can take 30 minutes.
- Writing the bulk of the text: Once the lead is good enough, I can write the rest of the text fairly quickly. I rarely outline; the outline is in my head, like a puzzle, with all the pieces ready to be placed. It might take me 1 ½ or 2 hours.
- Marinating: I like to walk away from the text. That may not seem to make sense if I’m claiming to write fast. But sometimes I get to the point where I can’t make any more progress. Ideas aren’t gelling. The only way for me to solve this is to stop writing. While I’m doing something else – walking the dog, running an errand, even taking a nap – the post is working itself out in the background.
- Editing and proofreading: This is where I fine-tune my writing. I go back to every (FIX) item and adjust it. I review my vocabulary for repetitive verbs or nouns. (This was especially challenging when writing website copy for financial services, where the words “provide” and “offer” popped up constantly.) I trim the fat. I read the copy out loud, so I can hear the flow and catch any sentences that sound off. I run spell check several times. And I print it out. This is the only way I can spot little errors.
If I follow my own advice, I can finish a post in 3 ½ hours (and yes, there are exceptions).
Here are some caveats:
Write where I can concentrate: I wrote this blog post in a coffeehouse. The down side was that a nearby baby was talking gibberish the whole time, and the old lady next to me began doing a tarot card reading for the barista. When I went outside to see if that would help, I heard trucks backing up and buses rumbling by. I should have brought ear plugs to tune out the noise. I need quiet to think.
Stop checking my phone: The only way to make serious progress is to avoid disruptions: email, social media, and phone calls.
Commit to the slog: Writing can be a beast sometimes. But I can’t be like that whining baby in the coffeehouse. I’ve got a job to do, and I sit there and force myself to do it. This is a business, after all.