Everywhere you look, you’ll find an article on mastering writer’s block. Honestly, I ain’t got time for that!
That’s right: I don’t have time for writer’s block. People are paying me to write, so I need to deliver on the promises that I make to my clients.
I’m not going to lie and say that writing is easy, that the words always come quickly or that each writing day is created equal. Because it’s not. But I’ve got a job to do and consistently writing new content is a big part of that.
In order to get to work writing each day, I’ve come up with my own six step process to keep my writing projects flowing (and on time). Let’s get to it!
1. Brainstorm, Brainstorm, Brainstorm
I’ve tried everything from trying to block out a half an hour per day strictly to brainstorm new post ideas (didn’t work), to keeping excel spreadsheets or Google docs full of ideas and scribbling a few furious notes of a brilliant article concept in the middle of the night.
However, for me, there’s no perfect system of brainstorming.
What is important however, is that I continuously consider who I’m writing for and try to keep a pipeline of ideas available for pitching them. You could try to do this on a regular basis (daily, weekly or monthly) or just when the mood strikes. Above all else, keep dreaming up new ideas and find a place to capture them (that works for you).
2. Percolate on the Idea
It’s rare for me to come up with a new idea and sit down and write it immediately. It’s not impossible or completely unheard of; it’s just not how I typically work.
Instead, I’ll often start with a fresh Google doc and have the title and description listed. I find that my mind works best when I sit on a post idea for a few days before writing it – especially for a new client.
My mind sort of works on it subconsciously in the background and I’ll think up different opening lines, outline points, etc. This works great when it’s time to write, as my brain has usually figured out which angle I’d like to take on the piece.
3. Sketch Notes
As I mentioned, it’s common for me to utilize a separate Google doc for each piece and add notes as I come across sources or ideas as I’m percolating on the piece. Even if I’m writing the post directly in the backend (like I now do for Tom), I’ll still often at least outline the post in Google docs.
I wrote this whole post this way. If you’re not a regular Google docs user, one issue you’ll run into is that the formatting often is off when you copy and paste from docs into WordPress. It’s not too big a deal; usually it just adds extra spacing between paragraphs and for some reason always bolds the last paragraph (which I just then go and fix).
Regardless of where I write it, having a dedicated spot to take notes for each post idea is helpful. It keeps me organized and constantly fleshing out that particular story.
Finally it’s time to sit down and write the darn thing. If I’ve followed the steps above, it’s virtually impossible for me to sit and stare at a blank screen due to writer’s block.
If I’m really not in the mood, sometimes I’ll just wait until the next day. Since I tend to give myself ample time to write prior to the deadline, I usually don’t feel a whole lot of pressure to write if I’m not feeling it.
For example, if I didn’t sleep well the night before and my brain is a little foggy, sometimes I’ll do other mindless admin tasks that day instead. Or other times, all it takes is a few minutes of writing to get ‘in the mood,’ so I’ll set a Pomodoro timer and get cranking. Each day is different (and they aren’t created equal) and since I’m the boss, I try to go with my mood, rather than force myself to do something that’s not really in the cards.
5. Edit, Edit, Edit
It’s common for me to review each post multiple times. When you’re the writer, it’s normal to miss the same things over and over as your brain just skips over them. That’s why multiple read-throughs can be helpful.
I’ll also read things out loud if I need to be extra diligent (i.e. it’s the first piece I’m delivering to a new client) or my brain is a little scattered. If you’re a new (or seasoned) freelancer, reading your work out loud is a great practice to get into. It’s easier to catch those common errors this way!
Finally! It’s time to deliver the piece to the client. This is the best part, right? Payday is just around the corner.
As I mentioned previously, different clients may want posts or article delivered in different ways. Most of my clients have given me login credentials now, so I just save it as a draft in the backend of WordPress and shoot them an email that it’s done.
For other clients, I deliver via Google docs, convert it to a Word doc (if they’re really picky) and have even delivered it via a text file. The important thing to remember when you’re juggling multiple clients (especially as you just start working with them), is what that particular client’s preference is.
I keep an e-file for each of my clients and either have their style guide saved in it or compile my own via notes that I’ve copied and pasted from our email exchanges on what’s important to them. As I’ve said before, it’s my job to make my client’s lives as easy as possible!
Each writer has their own way of keeping writing projects flowing and on time. The above six-step process is what has worked for me and is something that has evolved over the last year or so.
Starting by brainstorming is key. You want to get all of the junk ideas out first (trust me, there are going to be some) and get to the good stuff. Next, percolate on ideas for a day or two (if you can) and sketch notes as you come across sources or additional outline ideas before you sit down and write.
This way, when you are scheduled to write, you can dive right in and crank out the piece in record time. And it should be high quality too! Don’t forget to edit more than once and stick to the client’s assigned style guide (or your own notes if they haven’t provided one) when packaging it for delivery.
Lastly, send it off with a smile and the confidence that you get when you know you’ve done your best work. It’s a great feeling!
Does your process look different than mine? How so?
Photo Credit: Joshua Earle
Jawad Khan says
I’m a big fan of Google docs as well and have used it for tracking my projects and client work.
But recently I’ve found Trello a lot more useful for keeping in sync with the clients. I think using G-docs + Trello can be a real time saver.
Gina Horkey says
Thanks Jawad! I’ve heard great things about Trello, but haven’t dived in head first yet myself – maybe it’s time to start?
Laura Ginn says
I use Google Docs religiously for working with my writers and clients. It has cut our emails and turn around times down immensely. Don’t know how I ever lived without it!
Gina Horkey says
Right? It’s a pretty great tool – and you can’t beat free!
Nice tips. Sometimes I feel I spend too much time editing and I still miss stuff, so I write the article then edit a few times. I then take a break for half hour or an hour before editing again. This allows me to see some mistakes I missed the first go-around.
Gina Horkey says
Taking a break in between edits can be VERY helpful – thanks for sharing:-)
No problemo 🙂
Elizabeth Manneh says
Thanks Gina. I found these tips really useful. I’m still experimenting with ways to record my ideas, and at the moment I’m juggling a physical notebook (for when I don’t have internet access) and Evernote. I’m also trying to ‘sort’ my ideas into subjects to make them easier to find. Do you sort your ideas or just record them?
Gina Horkey says
Both;-) I’ll sort into the different client files for easy access and also do a braindump from time to time.
Jax Anderson says
Awesome step by step process!
I must admit mine is quite similar in a sense if I’ve got a reasonable bulk order for content for the 1 client, I’ll come up with the headlines first, followed by what I believe to be the goal of the content which may be “educate the reader in x”, and then list the 3+ sub headings/points I believe it will take to get that point across in the piece.
That way like yourself, I can work within my deadlines and if inspiration is not coming easily on a particular day to actually crank out words, I know it’s there for me to refer too and write later on when I’m in a better headspace for it.
Thanks for confirming my method isn’t half bad and where I can improve it :)!
Gina Horkey says
Hey Jax! Glad that works for you too:-) I think it’s easy for people to think that writers can only write when inspiration strikes, but with methods like ours, that’s just not true!
Alex Newell says
It took me a long time to find a way of working that really cut out the so called “Writer’s block” and it is close to your method above Gina.
I use as simple an approach as I can. I keep a list of possible topics and titles in Evernote and then work my way through them.
And I write in Word.
I brainstorm using mindmaps on real paper (sorry trees !) and a pen and I allow plenty of time for each part or it turns into pressure and struggle. Which is usually called, “Writer’s block”
Gina Horkey says
Awesome Alex! Thanks for sharing – writing on paper, what a novel concept;-) I mean that in the friendliest way possible, as I also like to map things out that way!
Michaela Mitchell says
I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t just make myself brain storm – the moment it feels forced, I can hear crickets in my mind. But I get ideas for pitches or my own posts at the most random times – while driving, cooking, you name it. I keep my phone nearby and jot down a note to go back to later.
I definitely agree with reading posts out loud. I catch most of my mistakes that way.
To maintain my writing skills at a high level, I need to create content every day.
If I stop working for more than a week, I saw that some of my skills are slowly fainting away, so I must write something new daily.
Martin Lund says
My setup is:
– Quick note taking: Notes for iPad
– Brainstorming with structure: Mindnode for iPad
– Brainstorming without structure: MS OneNote
– Away from keyboard: Moleskine + pencil and eraser
– Task management: MS OneNote
– Sketching: Paper by 53 for iPad