Two hurdles known to writers are a blank page and a short deadline. Professional writers learn how to circumvent those situations to create content quickly. When you’re hired to write, you have to produce much content at a fast pace. For those who prepare site content as just one part of their job and are not professional writers, it can be daunting. If you fall into the latter category and often wonder what to do or where to start, I have some tips for you. There’s a way to address both and get a short blog post out the door relatively quickly. This process also works for longform posts. To learn the process, start with a shorter post. Then you can use it for posts of all lengths and prepare content more quickly. Let’s start!
There’s much to know before writing a post. For instance, there are business goals of the post, audience, overall topic or area of expertise, SEO terms to consider, reuse plans, and the editorial calendar. Those are advanced topics which I won’t address in this post. This post is about techniques to write the content. You can have all those items in mind as you write, but this is the general approach that you can use to actually produce the content. You’ll need these items before starting to write:
- A timer (for instance, a kitchen timer, an alarm on your phone, email reminder, or something else)
- The post topic and at least three supporting main points, or 5-7 list items
- Placeholder text you can use when you get stuck or want to identify information to look up and add later (such as links)
- Time to sit and write without interruption
These steps include time limits to help you move quickly in your writing. I’ve set the time limits with approximately an hour in mind for a short post. The limits are reminders that help you segment different phases and encourage continual movement. Otherwise, you might linger in one area more than necessary. As you use these techniques more, it will become more natural. Longer posts will likely require more time for different phases.
1. Clear any possible distraction from your environment for the next hour.
For example, turn off the radio, close the door, take a quick break, grab a beverage before you start working if you think you’d like one, and tell people not to come talk to you. For the next hour, you need to focus deeply and completely on writing.
2. Set the timer for five minutes.
3. Write an outline.
You have five minutes to capture the intent and main content of the post. Don’t overthink it at this phase! You don’t have to write in full sentences. Just jot down words or phrases. Don’t worry about structure, formatting, or grammar. All you need to do is capture thoughts and get an outline. Here’s what to include.
Write a headline. You might want to change it before you publish. Write a headline that describes the main subject. Do not write a headline that refers to one sentence or one paragraph which is not the main topic you’re discussing in the post.
Write a rough sentence or two or three, or group of quick phrases in the introductory section. Don’t overthink it. Just jot down some ideas that capture the intent. Remember, you only have five minutes for the entire outline.
3-5 topic paragraphs
Write the opening sentence or idea for each paragraph or the list items. Add one or more quick sentences or phrases if you’d like. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. Just capture the idea for each point, each item, each paragraph. When the post is complete, a reader should be able to review the introduction and then quickly read the first sentence of each following paragraph to know what points you’re making.
You can always add more information and topic paragraphs as you write. One that comes to mind for me was a year-end post that started out as 10 items and I expanded to 15. Much happened in that year. For the outline, you should have at least three items with which to start. I prefer to have more items for my posts. For instance, if you’re going to write a post that has a list of items such as “7 Tips to Do Something” I think that you should have at least 5-7 items. Don’t waste people’s time. I wouldn’t normally open an article to read a list with just three items. Give people more so they’ll come back for more.
Write a quick summation that pulls it all together. Like the introduction, use sentences or phrases or whatever to just capture the intent.
The outline provides the structure and direction of the post. Although it might not seem like there’s much content there, it’s actually not the case. You’ve done much of the work. Now you can start adding content. It will be much easier to move through it quickly. Instead of thinking that you have to write something from start to finish, you don’t have to. Your outline enables you to “complete” the post, as in defining the content to be included. You won’t need to think as much about what might come next or how to word something. This also enables you to jump around to different sections and complete them one-by-one if you get stuck.
If your timer goes off before you finish the outline, add one minute and wrap it up. Don’t let it go longer.
4. Set the timer for 30 minutes and write your first draft.
This is the main writing phase, one in which you create your first draft. It’s the phase in which you’ll do most of your thinking. At this point, focus on the content. Don’t think about details such as punctuation and grammar. You can correct those more quickly in an edit pass later in the process.
Turn your brain on to full concentration mode. Dive in. Add content to your outline. Turn phrases into sentences. Add more information. Move things around if need be. Add more paragraphs if you’d like. Work on your opening sentence. Focus. Get those thoughts out.
Here’s an important point to remember: keep moving. If you get stuck, jump to another section. For instance, if you’re struggling with the introduction, jump down to the topic paragraphs and write those first. As you fill those in, it might make the introduction easier to write. Who knows? Be fluid. Just keep writing, keep moving. The idea is to get the article written quickly, not necessarily going directly from point A (the opening sentence) to point B (the last sentence). I don’t always write a post straight from start to end. It depends on the post. If it works best for you to write sequentially for the entire article, then do that. Just don’t allow yourself to become stuck in one spot for too long.
When writing, use placeholders when necessary. I have my own placeholder text that I use periodically in sentences when I get stuck on a word, or for links I want to add later on, or other situations. For example, imagine that you want to add a link to another post somewhere. It’s a link you’ll have to find, copy, and paste in your post. If you go out and find that link while writing your first draft, it could break your concentration. Put in a placeholder and find the link later when you’re not having to think as much. The idea is to keep moving.
My placeholder text is “aaa” but you can choose whatever you’d like. You can also make it bold or change the color to red or something like that. When I’m done writing, I can run a search for “aaa” and ensure I didn’t miss anything. For your placeholder text, use something that you can search for that would be out of place otherwise.
If the timer goes off, add another five, ten, or 15 minutes to it depending on how much writing you think you have yet to do on your short post. Avoid adding more time, as you’re trying to get into the habit of producing content in an expedited fashion. See what you can get written in a 30-40 minute timeframe for the first draft. Also, hearing the timer enables you to quickly review how much content you have written and what your pace is. If you haven’t written much in 30 minutes, push more. Ask yourself: are you trying to make it perfect the first time vs. getting most of the overall post completed? I find it easier and quicker to think more about getting more information for the whole article and adding more content to various sections as I go. Sometimes you don’t have as much time as you’d like.
Before moving on, ensure that your first draft is complete. That means that all sections are complete and there are no phrases or wording placeholders left. You can add links in the second draft if you’d like.
For longer posts, you’ll likely need more time for your first draft. As you become accustomed to writing in this manner, your writing time will shorten.
5. Take a 5-minute break.
If you’ve been concentrating and writing as intently as I imagine you did to complete the first draft, a short break is useful before beginning work on the second draft. Or, jump right in to the second draft.
6. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Make an edit pass and check punctuation and grammar.
You’re in your second draft. Make it your last. Now it’s clean-up time. You’ve done the hard work. Now it’s just about tweaking content and finalizing the post. You’re fixing content, not necessarily creating entire passages. Read through the post and make wording adjustments as needed. Here are some examples of what to check for:
- Active tense
- Sentences that are too long: break them up into several
- Flow: is there an awkwardly worded sentence that makes you stop mid-read? Rewrite it so there are no speed bumps for readers.
7. Set the post aside overnight. Review it and edit it again.
I’ve never regretted sitting on a post overnight or even just for a few hours. It gives you another chance for a quick read and review. Make a final copyedit. Because it’s going live on the internet, it’s good to check again. Sometimes I cut paragraphs and rewrite some items the next day. It depends on the post.
There’s one important consideration with this. Be mindful of perfectionism and a desire to continue adding content. Know when to stop editing and let go. Once there’s enough well-written and fully edited content, you need to stop. This is something you will learn as you write more. You’ll become aware of when you’re tweaking too much. Time constraints and business demands might also impact this, but you do need to learn when to let go of a post.
8. Publish the post.
Congrats! Now get the word out on social media, in your email newsletter, and wherever else you announce posts.