Writing is hard for almost everyone. Novelists and poets especially seem to struggle for even a flash of inspiration. Fortunately, bloggers seem to have things a bit easier. Bloggers know their next blog post might come from a flash of inspiration, but most likely it will be the result of a process. A predictable, well-tested process. We work that process to get our posts done. Whether it’s hard or easy, writing is a skill. Skills can be learned. So if you struggle to write your blog posts or to write enough blog posts, take heart: You can get better. Blogging can get easier. And you’re definitely not alone. Every blogger has struggled to finish a post at least once.
Blog posts are a hot commodity
As a writing format, the blog post is in extremely high demand right now. There are several reasons for this. First, we’re in the heyday of content marketing, and content marketing requires – you guessed it – content. The blog post is one of the most commonly used content formats.
The other reason there’s so much demand for blog posts is, well, blogs. Blogs are hungry creatures. They need to be fed at least once a month, and usually once a week. If you’re undertaking a major content marketing project – like this blog, for instance – you may have a blog that needs fresh content every day.
The solopreneur’s blogging dilemma
If you’re a small shop or a solo professional, you’ve got extra pressure with your blog posts. While big companies can hire writers for their blogs, you can’t hire a stand-in writer as easily.
First of all, there’s the cost. Good bloggers – bloggers whose work is worth reading and sharing – are expensive. But that’s actually the easy part. The hard part is that because you’re a company of one, driven and defined by your own personal branding, you need blog posts that sound like you wrote them.
Usually that means you need to write the posts. Even if you could find someone who’s skilled enough to “ghost” your voice, they’d also need to be a subject expert at the level that you’re a subject expert. That will make them even more expensive. You’re usually better off boosting your blogging skills than trying to go out and hire that writer.
So how can you boost your blog skills? How can you write better posts, faster and easier than before? There are a bunch of ways to do this. Here are a few that work for me, plus a few more that other writers swear by. Try each of these out – really put them through their paces. In a few weeks you’ll have developed your blogging process far beyond what you struggle with now. You might even be churning out enough extra blog posts to guest post.
1) Have a list of post ideas at the ready
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.” That quote from W. Somerset Maugham gets a lot of play, but it deserves it. And we can leverage it to our purpose.
Sitting down at a blank screen might work for some, but most smart bloggers never get themselves into that uncomfortable position. Instead, they always know what they’re going to write about beforehand. This basically means they have
- A list of potential blog post topics at the ready
- An editorial calendar
Let’s focus on the list of post ideas for now. A list of 20-30 post ideas will save your bacon on days when “inspiration” is low. You gather this list in the brief moments when you do have inspiration. Then you squirrel away your inspiration in the form of your post ideas list.
A post ideas list can be as crude as a list of topics. It can also be more developed, with working headlines and maybe an opening sentence or two. It can include links to articles or research you want to include in the post, or it can have a crude outline of 2-5 key points. However you do it, and however detailed it is, just start building a post ideas list. This tip alone will probably cut your writing time down by 20% or more.
You’ll probably want some way to record and even organize your post ideas list. This can be as low-tech as the back of an envelope or as high-tech as an enterprise level content development system. I like something in the middle, like Trello. It’s free, endlessly flexible and terrific for organizing ideas.
Trello is based on the idea of boards. Each idea you want to track would be a card on those boards. You can also sort cards into columns. Here’s how it might look in action:
This Trello board has a bunch of post ideas on it, sorted into five different columns for each major topic area.
A setup like this lets you capture posts ideas fast. It’s critical to have an easy and fast way to capture ideas. If your idea-capture system isn’t really easy and fast, you won’t use it as much. When you have an idea, sometimes you’ll think, “I don’t want to interrupt what I’m doing now, I’ll add that idea later.” And later never comes.
2) Have an editorial calendar
If you use an editorial calendar, try to keep it simple. Low-cost, effective calendars like CoSchedule are fine for most of us. If you’re working on a huge blog that has a full-fledged editor and a dozen writers, you might want a more robust system.
An editorial calendar helps you write better and faster. Why? Because if you know what you’ll be writing about a day or two days ahead of time, you’ll work faster when you do finally sit down to write. During those days before you actually write the post (while you’re driving, or cooking, or whatever) you’ll be thinking about it.
This pre-writing thinking can help a lot. It can give you a great opening sentence. It can let you remember some fabulous piece of information you want to include. It can give you time to think about what you really want to say, and what you really think about the topic.
So give yourself thinking time before writing time. You’ll end up needing less writing time.
3) Have a way to quickly capture research you find or ideas you have about each post
If you write blog posts that reference a lot of research, this can save you hours per post. And even if you don’t use research much, you probably like to use an example here and there. Having those resources at your fingertips saves a lot of time.
This is one requirement I have of any post ideas list technology. It has to be good at capturing content formats I’ll want to use in each post. Trello is very good at this. You can add links, an outline, a pdf, a video – whatever. And it’s super-fast to add to the card.
Like your post ideas, your research-gathering has to work super-quick and super-easy or you won’t use it. You’ll say “I’ll add that later” because you’re in a rush, and later will never come. You’ll forget about that research until your post is due, and then – duh – you’ll waste 20 minutes finding that resource all over again.
Another way to find information you liked in the past is SnapBird. It’s a free Twitter tool that shows all your past tweets (or someone else’s past tweets). If you search by hashtag through your own tweets, you’ll find every article or piece of content you ever thought was worth sharing… that you added the hashtag to.
Having this library of research available adds enormous value to social media work and content curation work in general. Suddenly you’re not just stuffing content into a Twitter feed – you’re building an awesome database of every piece of content you ever liked, all searchable and sortable by hashtag.
4) Write every day
I mentioned earlier how writing is a skill. Skills get better with practice. Writing, too, gets better with practice. Writing every day will improve the speed at which you can finish blog posts. It will also make you a better writer.
Bloggers like Kevan Lee of Buffer report that it used to take him about 12 hours to write a post (an epic post, with tons of research, 2,000-3,000 words, and ample examples). After near daily practice for over a year, he dropped that time down to 3-4 hours. One of his colleagues, Belle Beth Cooper once needed 2 days or more to write a blog post. Within a few months she had pared that down to 4 hours.
5) Find your best time and place and conditions to write
Writing when you’re exhausted is awful. It also takes about three times longer to finish a post when you’re exhausted as it does when you’re fresh. Writing when you’re exhausted also has another peril: You’re more likely to make mistakes.
Writing in complete silence is torture for some, but required by others. Personally, I require quiet to write. But some people crave the background noise of a café so much that they actually use an app to fake it. Some people insist they have to write in the morning or it will never get done. Others write at night. Some people like to write in their offices. Others prefer a nice couch at home.
Whatever conditions you need to write at your best, get them. Let yourself have what you need to work. If it means you have to take a 30-minute nap before you can write a post, then do that. Need a coffee shop? Find one.
Stop telling yourself you have to write a certain way in a certain place at a certain time because somebody once told you that was how to write. Go write where and how you write best. Nobody else’s best practices matter. Don’t apologize about your ideal writing conditions. Just get the *&^% post done.
6) Find your writing process
As you start writing every day, you’ll realize each post goes through it’s paces. This is the process I mentioned in the opening. Everyone’s process is different, but once you’ve found yours, your blog writing will go far smoother.
The typical steps of my own writing process are below. I’m a Pomodoro method enthusiast, so basically I just chip away at posts one pomodoro at a time, working in short, focused bursts. I work in 35-minute long pomodoros now. I know that most posts will take me between five and eight pomodoros to write.
- For the first 3-5 minutes, I think I’ve picked the wrong topic, I’ll never be able to write the post, I’m a failure and I should give up and die. This used to take longer than 3-5 minutes.
- After the despair/freakout passes, I settle down and just force myself to write 500 words.
- The next push is to 1,000 words, and then to 1,500 words.
- By the time I’ve hit the basic word count for a post, I know I’m about half done time-wise.
- I go back and worry over the intro paragraph, then read the entire post out loud, heavily rewriting sentences.
- At some point I’ll just ignore the words and delve into images and examples.
- When the post looks good and reads well, I’ll run it through the Hemingway app to simplify the writing further. I aim for a 6th-grade reading level.
- Then I’ll put it through the free Grammarly app in the Chrome browser, just to try to find any editorial nitpicks.
- Finally, before it’s officially done, I will read it out loud one more time.
That’s my blog-writing process. Yours will be different. The only way to find your process is to write a lot of posts.
7) Use an outline
Many excellent writers swear by the outline. It’s especially helpful if you suffer from writer’s block. The power of the outline is basically to take what feels like a huge, difficult thing, and break it down into smaller, less-scary parts. To work an outline into a blog post, you start by just sitting down and writing out the main points of your post. Even if it’s just a skimpy list, it’s a start.
Then you go back and add sub-points to those main points. If those sub-points have details, you add those in as sub-sub points. Basically, with every new tier of information, you go into more detail. Each main point becomes a section of the post. Each sub-point becomes a paragraph. Each sub-sub point becomes a sentence.
Keep fleshing out the details until you’ve got the approximate length of your post. Then read your post back to yourself once or twice. Edit it until it flows well. Eventually, you’re done.
8) Use dictation
Many people find talking to be far easier than writing. If that’s you, consider dictating your blog posts.
If you can naturally speak in a way the opens the post, explains the problem and then provides the solution, that’s great. A lot of people can’t. Most people benefit from writing a short outline and then using that to frame their words.
To translate the spoken words to printed words, you’ve got a couple of options. You can use smartphone apps or a desktop-based software like Dragon Dictation. Or you can just record an audio file and get it transcribed at a place like Rev.com.
The average person speaks about 150 words per minute. So if you want a post of about 900 words, you’ll need to talk for about 6 minutes. Want a long-form post of 1,500 words? 10 minutes.
Of course, once you’ve done your talking and got your words made into text, you probably aren’t going to have something that’s ready to publish. It will need some editing. Maybe quite a bit of editing. You can do this yourself, or if you’re extremely short on time but not on money, you can hire someone.
9) Have a deadline
This one is hard, because you’ll probably need an editor, or at least someone you respect and/or fear. Some people can hold themselves to self-imposed deadlines, but some of us can’t. If you aren’t good at self-imposed deadlines, you could hire a coach or someone else to be your stand-in editor. Or you could use your laptop.
Unplugging your laptop and going to some secluded place to write can function as a deadline. You have until the laptop battery dies to finish your post. I used this technique on a plane once. It definitely worked.
Those are nine ways thousands of bloggers have managed to go from struggling to finish a post to publishing dozens of posts a month. Your own formula for better, faster, easier blog post writing may pull from several of these options. Everyone’s working process is different.
Even when you do find it, your blogging process may change over time. But once you’ve got a process, you’ll be fine. You’ll have something that can be improved, instead of just staring at that dreaded white screen. How do you handle your blogging? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!