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:
- Media (images, video, etc)
- In-depth research and planning
- 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