I hear from a lot of writers. They’re excited to be starting their own blogs or websites or books, and they have that new project fire. I love it.
One question I get asked a lot is what my writing process is like. I keep a pretty hectic schedule; I write for Huffington Post, for Business Insider, Startup Smart, Elite News Daily and even the Hubspot blog.
I also publish up to 6 days a week here on Medium, take the time to reply to every single one of my readers and work on marketing and content for some of my consulting clients.
How do I balance it all? It’s actually not a hard thing to do. I’ve found it comes down to processes. Ensuring that you have the right processes and steps in place to keep everything running.
I follow these steps every fucking day, because I know that my natural inclination is to slack off. To quit. To find excuses. No matter how much I love writing, I have this part of me that wants me to fail. These processes are the way around it.
Let’s start with tools.
Evernote is my go to for capturing notes, planning ahead and keeping productive. It’s a bit of a life saver. It’s had a lot of problems, and those homies need to stop fucking adding things to it, but I still love the app.
I use Things for a lot of my To Dos and practical task management. It’s iPhone, Mac and iPad compatible, so it works on all my devices. My second choice though would definitely be Wunderlist.
1. Plan out your writing in advance.
I don’t think there is any point at all in trying to publish if you don’t have a plan. You need to make sure that you know exactly what posts you’re going to be writing and when. You can be flexible with it, but taking the time to plan is the only way to make yourself write.
So how does this look practically? I have one day at the end of every month where I plan out the next month’s posts. 6 posts, every week, for a total of 24 blog topics every month.
The topics come from a range of different sources. I’ll look at what articles I’ve enjoyed reading and examine my response, or a new perspective. I read the New York Times religiously, Buzzfeed every day and any book I can get my hands on. I read one chapter of a book to start the day, and one chapter to finish, and so many ideas show themselves when you start to do that.
I’ll constantly make notes during conversation with other people.
I had a few coffees with my mentor yesterday, and he told me that with all the focus on starting up, he thinks many founders today lack the ability to finish. Great quote, straight into my notes for next month.
I write these down in Evernote as a checklist.
2. Sketch out your posts one week ahead.
I have one day every single week where I’m not allowed to publish. It’s normally a Sunday, which is the time my partner and I get to set aside for brunches and day trips and movie marathons.
I take that day to look ahead at my week, and examine the blog posts that I’ve scheduled. I then take up to an hour to sketch out all the post topics with dot points and notes, adding a little structure to them.
I try to get this down for each:
- Supporting Sections
- Additional Notes
All of these are sketched out in Evernote and linked back to the month’s content schedule that I’m working off. This is an awesome trick for organisation, and you’ll find it’s a massive time saver down the track.
Once you have notes and ideas down for the blog posts covering the entire week, you’ll find it’s a lot more manageable to sit down and write. You won’t be scrambling for ideas or direction.
3. Review your day’s post the night before.
This is a part of my daily ritual. Every night, I sit down to review my To Do list for the following day and read through the sketch of the day’s blog post. Where possible, I fill in the sketch with additional notes and start thinking about the format and content.
I try to set a clear time limit on this – no more than 30 minutes before I hit the sack. This is the last scheduled preparation time though, so I know that it’s crucial to put in the effort.
I tend to get my best ideas at night, which makes doing this right before bed particularly productive. It also just gets the juices going so that I’m running through the post in my mind when I fall asleep, and without fail – I wake up feeling pretty much ready to write.
4. Fill in the sketch.
Actually writing the post takes around an hour, from my fingers hitting the keyboard to publishing and sharing. I usually start by turning the dot points and notes into headings and assigning a word limit to each part. Say, 300 words for an intro, 300 for a conclusion, giving me up to 600 words for the body of the post.
I’m not strict about those word counts, but setting the limits helps me to keep it to a structure and not go completely off the rails. It also motivates me to work fast and get it done – hey, there’s only 150 words left in this section, that’s easy!
The tough part is finding images to accompany the post. I like to use three images, one for the header, one to close the intro, and one before the conclusion, and they normally come from Unsplash. Great photo resource.
NOTE: Many startups and writers don’t credit the photographers on Unsplash. But I honestly believe that if you’ve received value from their art, the least you can do is point your audience to the work they’ve done. It doesn’t take much time, and they’ll appreciate it. Many of them are incredible artists.
5. Follow a three day share schedule.
I try to share each post for two days, multiple times. I’ll tweet links, quotes, images and excerpts on the day I publish the post and the next day, making sure that if there are any key people I want to get it to, I email them or tweet them as soon as I hit publish.
The third day, I like to start sharing any responses I’ve had to the work and spreading some of that feedback around, as well as giving my thoughts on the experience of writing that post and how it felt.
Don’t go overboard on this. The best rule is to keep it natural. You need to take the time to promote your work and ask people to read it, but don’t spam people or they will think you’re a total fucking idiot. And they will stop following you. And you will deserve it. Truth bomb.