Leaving Work Behind

9 Steps to Writing Blog Posts Quickly (and Making Much More Money)

Written by Tom Ewer on March 14, 2013. 47 Comments

Hands typing fast.The following post is adapted from one of the five exclusive articles packaged with my freelance writing course, Paid to Blog.

Having the ability to produce blog posts quickly can have a huge effect on your freelance earnings. It can be the difference between your freelance blogging being a part time “hobby” or a full time living.

Having spoken to a lot of freelance writers in my time I am well aware that many of us spend literally hours on posts, agonizing over every detail and never feeling totally comfortable with the quality of the piece.

I know one person who would spend six or more hours on just one $100 post — equating to an hourly rate of just $20. If he had written that same post in two hours he would have been earning a far more healthy $50 per hour. That’s the power of speed at play.

What is Fast?

The question of speed is of course a subjective one, but I would say that if you can knock out a 1,000 word blog post in an hour or less you are working to a good rhythm.

However, bear the following mind — your speed will be dictated in part by the complexity of the piece you are writing. In writing my freelance blogging guide I could usually get through 1,000 or more words per hour because I had a good idea of what I wanted to say. Meanwhile, if I am writing a flow-of-conscience piece for Leaving Work Behind I might write nearer to 2,000 words in an hour. On the other hand, a more involved 1,000 word piece requiring in-depth research or similarly disruptive elements might take me closer to two hours.

Ultimately it is up to you to decide whether or not you are happy with the speed at which you produce blog posts. Either way, I would suggest that you take a close look at the following process — regardless of your current speed it may well offer you something extra.

Worried About Quality?

Freelance writers often fret about producing work quickly — they fear that it will affect the quality of their work. It is a fair concern but in reality you can produce posts in less time without 
it affecting the quality of the end result. Greater efficiency doesn’t have to lead to an inferior product.

Furthermore, one of the golden rules of freelance writing (that many writers do not consider) is that you should write to the client’s standard, not your own. If you are just starting out as a writer and have the capability of writing top quality posts, don’t go to great lengths to produce $50 per hour work for a $20 per hour client.

I’m not saying that you should produce poor work, but don’t expect a low-paying client to fully recognize your skills and give you a big raise because you put far more effort into their pieces than the pay warrants. Write to a standard that they are happy with — if that is below your full potential, so be it. You’ll produce the work more quickly and as a result make more money and the client will be happy.

My 9 Step Process to Writing Blog Posts Quickly

I believe that just about anyone can improve the time in which they produce blog posts by reading and applying the steps below. The improvement may be subtle (if you are already a quick writer) or dramatic (if you are currently quite slow).

I have listed the steps in chronological order — i.e. the order in which they should be followed as you write a post. You will find that your speed will increase as you become more comfortable with each step. Having said that, the full application of my process should also yield immediate results.

Step 1: Have a Topic Ready

Thinking of topic ideas takes precious time — time you cannot afford to lose when it comes to writing a post. In reality these ideas will come to you at all hours of the day and as such you should always have a list to refer to when it comes to creating a post.

I recommend that you use a tool such as Evernote to create and store topic ideas. It doesn’t really matter what tool you use as long as you have the ability to write and collate topic ideas from anywhere (a notebook will do just fine if you want to keep it low tech).

Even if you struggle to think of topic ideas, you will be far better served by thinking of them in batches rather than individually. Sitting down for 15 minutes to brainstorm several topic ideas is likely to be far more productive than trying to think of one topic then writing a post based upon it.

Step 2: Plan (Or Don’t)

This is perhaps the most controversial step in the entire process — depending on what you are writing, planning may or may not help your speed.

My rule of thumb is as follows — if you are intimately comfortable with the topic and know exactly what you’re going to say, don’t bother with a plan. In any other situation you should have a written plan in hand before you start writing the post. Either way, you must know what you are going to say before you say it — this includes any references that you plan to quote or link to.

My post plans are typically made up of a list of sub-headers with bullet points under each. It doesn’t have to (and really shouldn’t) be any more complicated than that.

Step 3: Write the Headline Last

Most writers will tell you to write your headline first but I disagree — that takes up vital time. Whilst you should know what the main message of your post is and draft a rough header before you start writing, you should complete the post before finalizing the headline.

My thinking behind this is straightforward — once you have finished writing the post you are likely to be in a far stronger position to quickly come up with a good headline. In fact, it might hit you as you are in the process of writing.

Step 4: Type Fast

This is another no-brainer: few things can help your speed as much as improving your typing ability.

According to Wikipedia the average rate for transcription (i.e. copying something) for “average” computer users is 33 words per minute (WPM). The average professional typist usually types in speeds of 50 to 80 wpm. I would say that you should aim for a typing speed in the upper “professional” range.

Start by testing yourself here. The “Rules of Baseball” test reported my adjusted rate as 98 WPM but I was never formally taught to type and cannot really offer any insights in terms of technique. Having said that, when it comes to improvement I would advise that you get hold of a well-reviewed product such as TypeRightNow (please note that I have not personally used this product). It could be well worth the investment.

Step 5: Minimize Time Sucks

There are several things that can slow you down when it comes to writing blog posts, most notably:

  1. Media (images, video, etc)
  2. In-depth research and planning
  3. References (such as statistics, quotes and links)

You should minimize these time sucks as much as is practically possible. Having said that, such time suck can also add a lot of value to a blog post, so a balanced approach is important. Remember — work to the client’s standards, not your own.

Step 6: Don’t Fact Check Mid-Flow

There’s a real satisfaction when you get into a good flow of writing and few things are more frustrating than when a good flow is interrupted.

With that in mind, if you miss something out during the planning stage wait until you are finished writing to check it. Just leave a clear marker (like “CHECK”) and carry on writing. It’s far better to check multiple things in one batch at the end of the process than individually as they present themselves.

Step 7: “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”

One of my favorite writing quotes from Ernest Hemingway serves as excellent advice for anyone wanting to make a living from writing.

Whilst it can be tempting to edit your work as you write it, nothing could be less efficient. Instead, write with little regard for the fine details — just get your thoughts down. Once you are finished you can then go back and smooth the rough edges. Clearly delineating the two stages of writing should result in a marked improvement in speed.

Step 8: Leave Formatting Until the End

A good blog post can be elevated by selective formatting (i.e. bold and italics). Key passages should be highlighted in bold and specific words should be emphasised in italics.

However, both of these measures should only be implemented once you have finished writing and should be done as part of the editing process. There is little value in formatting as you write only to find that the work you have done has been rendered obsolete by changes made in the editing stage.

Step 9: Time Yourself

We’re all competitive to an extent — especially when it comes to beating ourselves — which is why you should set a time target for every post you write and attempt to beat it. You might be surprised at how this galvanises you to work more quickly.

Be realistic with the targets you set — your focus should be on efficiency and speed, not rushing to meet an arbitrary goal. And if the particular piece you’re working on becomes bigger than you originally thought it would be, don’t beat yourself up about not meeting your target. It’s there to encourage you, not to demotivate.

Over time you will get a good idea of how long it takes you to write posts of all different lengths and styles. That will enable you to price more accurately for work and schedule more effectively.

Practice Makes Perfect

The above process may seem rather overwhelming at first but it needn’t be. Just print out a copy and work from it the next time you write a post. Read the whole process to refamiliarize yourself with it then work through each step in turn. You may notice an immediate improvement in speed.

Obviously some of the steps require separate application (like coming up with topic ideas and improving your keyboard speed) and you should put time aside to focus on them. Everything else will develop naturally as you write more and more posts with the process in mind. Good luck!

Photo Credit: The Life of Bryan

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47 Responses to “9 Steps to Writing Blog Posts Quickly (and Making Much More Money)”

  1. Zimbrul
    March 14, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Great article Tom! If you have to insert links do you leave these for the end or add them as you write?

  2. Catherine
    March 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Hi Tom,

    Excellent points, all. Any blog post that quotes Ernest Hemingway gets an “A” in my book 🙂

    I write a company blog at a “real” job (though I mostly work from home) and also do lots of freelance web content writing. My degree in English literature taught me that writing is serious work and that good prose means careful word choice and an excellent grasp of grammar, syntax, spelling and cultural capital. Which will come in very handy if I someday write the Great American Novel.

    In the meantime, it’s all about getting the work done. Offering quality information in an easy-to-understand format. It ain’t rocket science, but it works.

    Love your blog. Love the fact that you’re making money and living an amazing life!

    • Tom Ewer
      March 14, 2013 at 9:43 pm

      Hey Catherine,

      I occasionally try to come across as erudite 😉

      Writing certainly is serious work but blogging is a seriously easy way to get into what is ultimately an artform. Like you say, it aint rocket science!

      Glad you like the blog — thank you!

      Cheers,

      Tom

  3. Sarah Li cain
    March 14, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    A quote that really struck me is how you said that you should write the quality that the client expects. I think too many people put too much pressure on themselves to craft the ‘perfect’ post rather than write something that pleases the client. That shouldn’t be an excuse to write poor quality posts too. I know when I first started writing, I would get caught up in the fact that my sentences weren’t well written, when I should have just written my article, then go back and proofread it.

    • Tom Ewer
      March 14, 2013 at 9:43 pm

      Hey Sarah,

      This is something I see a lot and holds a lot of people back. Like you say, the distinction between not being perfect and writing poor quality posts is an important one to make.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  4. Jeffrey Trull
    March 14, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks for writing this up, Tom! Hands down, this has been the most important advice to making money for me and I think it will be for other freelance writers, too.

    I especially love the bit about “writing to your client’s standards, not your own.” I’ve definitely gotten caught up in this, but it’s true. It’s not about producing bad work, but it is about producing work that’s good enough without wasting time.

  5. Bon Crowder
    March 14, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Oh my goodness, I love it when you write stuff like this!

    You wrote: “if you are intimately comfortable with the topic and know exactly what you’re going to say, don’t bother with a planpeer”

    I have to disagree. (I know, I just told you that this was fabulous, and now I’m disagreeing. Roll with it.)

    If you’re intimately comfortable with the topic, you’re likely to try to insert things that are tangential to the real point. You’ll blather on all over the place, and end up with a 1500 word post where 300 words would do it.

    I would say, “if you have a firm knowledge, but not too much knowledge, don’t bother to plan. But if you have little knowledge or a whole bunch of knowledge, write an outline.”

    Also, I’ll point out again the benefits of using Dragon Dictation. It aligns with your #4 “type fast” and your #7 “write drunk, edit sober.”

    I dictate while looking away so I don’t get distracted if my words get transcribed as strange freaky crap (like “artie” instead of “I already”). Then I do a read through and fix any problems during the edit.

    It saves a huge amount of time on spelling, prevents carpal tunnel syndrome, and it’s ridiculously fast.

    Thanks again. I get faster every time I read one of your posts on getting faster!

    (Although it makes me wonder: if I have to pause for reading posts on getting faster, is the average really faster? But that’s for another discussion.)

    • Tom Ewer
      March 14, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      Hey Bon,

      I think the ability to write about something without going off on tangents is a skill you can learn. Let’s meet in the middle — I’d say that you shouldn’t plan for a post on a topic that you know well if you’re comfortable in doing so.

      I’m sure Dragon Dictation would be awesome for a lot of people but I’m happy with my typing speed 🙂

      Cheers,

      Tom

  6. Bon Crowder
    March 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    I just thought of a good step number 10 for this.

    10. Don’t Break Your Arm Patting Yourself on the Back

    When I write something humorous, or in some other way “good,” I often go back and read and reread it to revel in how awesome I am. (yes, #narcissist)

    Talk about a time suck! I watched my Pi Day video a dozen times this morning after I posted it, and then another dozen times every time I shared it to a social network.

    I’m such a loser when it comes to this one. I could be getting freelance gigs and making buttloads of bucks if I would quit re-living the immediate past!

  7. Brett
    March 14, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Good post topic.

    One personal hack that I’ve found, especially for topics I’m not very familiar with is to pull about 2 or 3 stories about the topic I want to write about. Next I write down the main bullet points from each article on a separate piece of paper. These bullets serve as my outline for the article and I go from there. I produced some pretty solid articles about “cloth diapers” at one time doing just that and was able to be featured on some of the top blogs in that niche just by following this process.

    Needless to say, cloth diapers is not a topic that I am an expert in, nor do I have any personal interest in.

    I totally agree with writing to the customer’s standards though. This is very important element that isn’t taught in any formal writing class.

    • Tom Ewer
      March 14, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      Hey Brett,

      I think that’s a good idea if you’re working around well-established topics but I think you should always strive to provide a unique angle on the topics you cover 🙂

      Cheers,

      Tom

  8. David
    March 15, 2013 at 11:08 am

    I like this Tom, my take on dictation versus typing..
    (I know this wasn’t your idea but I thought it interesting)

    1. My thought processes are different when I write compared to when I speak. I’d end up with different text, with different emphasis or different meaning.

    2. I type faster than I speak anyway, so I would get no time benefit 😀

    Not saying it’s a bad idea, just that it wouldn’t work for me…
    David

  9. Charley
    March 15, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Unarguably the most wonderful post I’ve read in the whole of 2013. There are many writing mistakes you pointed out that plague me whenever I sit down to write an article. Most of the time I edit my work while writing and attempt to perfect my article even when the degree of effort I’m pouring into it isn’t justifiable with regard to the amount I’ll be paid in the end.

    I love that smart tip about timing yourself. I’ve never tried it but I’m not dubious about it’s effectiveness in fueling a writer to write faster. Regarding typing speed, I’m improving. I definitely can type 33 words per minute and even more, but I have to pause for a while during my writing to think of how to structure awkward sentences or how best to express a certain thought for easy comprehensibility.

    I sincerely think your blog outdoes many other freelance writing blogs out there and therefore deserves more recognition than it currently receives. I just hope other aspiring writers will visit LWB and learn from a true expert. I know you don’t deem yourself an expert but your articles on this blog exude expertise 🙂

  10. Kirsty
    March 18, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Great post (as always Tom). I personally like to write my titles first as I think it gives me focus…although having said that I might try it your way and see how I go because more often than not I change/tweak my titles as I go anyway!

    Just want to add that I absolutely loved Bon Crowder’s second comment about how being a narcissist can waste valuable writing time. Brilliant. I can be guilty of this but I’m glad somebody else had the courage to say it!

    Thanks for another uber-useful post Tom 🙂

  11. Johnny Moneyseed
    March 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Love it! I only started writing a few months ago, so I’m still getting into the groove of it. As time goes on I try to focus more on getting my ideas down, then refining afterwards. It’s so much easier than trying to use the best words/formatting/facts possible on the first draft.

    • Tom Ewer
      March 18, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      Hey Johnny,

      You seem to have a great attitude! Although blogging is pretty easy to do well, it takes time to understand the subtle nuances and really nail down a great writing style and structure. All it takes is persistence.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  12. MD
    March 18, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I just spent about 25 minutes last night brainstorming ideas. That list is going to be a great jumpstart for my next due date. One thing that slows me down is the editing process. I do want my work to be mistake free. I have a tendency to leave out words especially if I am in a good flow in the writing process. Do you have any tips to more quickly edit and to insure that no words were forgotten? Thanks for the post!

    • Tom Ewer
      March 18, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      Hey MD,

      I definitely tend to miss out words and get things wrong so don’t worry yourself about it. Editing is a bit of an artform but a really good method is to read out loud.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  13. Ivan
    March 24, 2013 at 1:37 am

    Tom,

    You are right about speed being a critical consideration for bloggers, freelance or otherwise.

    Just like any business, bloggers should improve and streamline the process of writing. Blogging would be no fun if you have to slave away for hours and produce little to no results!

    I would add to step 4 in that it’s better to type fast with inaccuracies (e.g. wrong spelling) than to slow down just to type perfectly. Like you’ve said, you want to capture your thought process as it goes. The spelling and wording can be edited later.

    One last step to boost writing speed is to minimize distractions. I like closing everything on my computer except for what I need to write. It’s funny how, when there’s absolutely nothing else to do except to write, then that’s exactly what I’ll do!

    • Bon
      March 24, 2013 at 2:16 am

      That’s the key reason I have to have Dragon – spelling. I can’t spell for the life of me. I waste so much time right clicking to choose the correct spelling. If I say the word, I’m golden.

    • Tom Ewer
      March 24, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      Hey Ivan,

      Absolutely right on both counts. RE inaccuracies, that’s really what I was getting at with step 7. Removing distractions is hugely important too; I suppose I didn’t include it because I consider it being important to doing any work (it’s something I generally talk about a lot).

      Cheers!

      Tom

  14. Adam
    September 11, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    I think, article on wikipedia is not really true about average speed. According to http://www.ratatype.com/high-scores/all-time/ average results are higher.

  15. Mahesh Mohan
    November 10, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Awesome post! My problem is exactly “Step 5: Minimize Time Sucks”. I also usually take 5-6 hours for a 1000 word post. 🙁

  16. sindu
    April 8, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Nice post…

  17. Taylor
    April 10, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Glad I came back to this post! I really need to work on writing faster and you touched on all the problems I didn’t realize I was having… editing the entire time, formatting through out, and researching during writing. These are all things I can intentionally stop doing and I hope to see some results!

    One question… do you have a post on charging hourly vs. per post? I charge per post right now and I’m wondering how to transition into per hour. I noticed a lot of the work on job boards area also per hour. How can I make that switch?

  18. ketef hanifi
    October 14, 2014 at 10:29 am

    hi thanks alot of.my little problem is that i want to write article.for a site that could pay me.can you provide me a bout a real one. thanks

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