Pamela Wilson

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Your Step-by-Step Guide to Writing More in Less Time

Have you ever sat down to write content for your business, only to…

Get distracted?

Feel overwhelmed?

Get stuck halfway through?

You’re not alone. Writing can be tough, but it’s essential if you want to attract customers and clients.

If you want to know that the next time you write you’ve got tools to stay in the zone until you’re finished, these tips are for you:

One: embrace overwhelm (and give it a swift kick)

Writing is a creative project. It’s not like washing dishes, or doing laundry where there is a set pattern and outcome.

Which is probably why dishes and laundry are common go-to chores when people want to put something off — there is comfort in knowing exactly what you need to do and what will happen.

When you sit down to write, there is a space between the idea in your head and the finished piece. And this space is a magnet for overwhelm:

Topic overwhelm

You might choose a topic for a piece of content and find that it’s spiraling out of control in your mind, getting bigger and more complex until that laundry starts looking very attractive.

How to kick topic overwhelm

If you feel like this:

  • Think about choosing a topic for beginners instead — those topics are often easier-to-write, in demand by prospects, and overlooked by competitors
  • Have a place to capture future ideas (also known as sticky thoughts — see further down). You can always come back to this list and see if your ideas will fit into the content you’re writing, or if they deserve a post of their own
  • Make sure you can sum up in one sentence what your content is going to be about. If you can’t do this, you might be trying to cover too many things in one piece of content.

Perfection overwhelm

I love working on content projects with large businesses, but I also get frustrated with how slow they move when creating (or more accurately, approving) content.

Pieces are passed from committee to committee, from manager to manager, and focus group to focus group, looking for the comfort of mass approval and ‘perfection.’ If you’re a small business, you can move much faster when creating content.

However that doesn’t mean you’re immune to perfection overwhelm. This can be a real productivity killer if you’re constantly tweaking content until it’s ‘just right.’

How to kick perfection overwhelm

There are two main ways you’re going to solve this affliction:

  1. Go for ‘good enough’
  2. Set a firm deadline

‘Good enough’ isn’t average, it’s good enough for what you need your content to do.

Yes you want to be professional, but don’t forget that if you’re publishing online you can usually change content after it’s live. Nothing has to be set in stone.

A deadline forces you to focus on completion rather than perfection. Some posts will be fantastic, others will be less so, but the skills you’ll get from those productive writing hours will be invaluable.

Two: Distract your mind with checklists

You sit down to write a piece of content.

Your to-do list lies next to you: “write blog post.”

A couple of hours go by. You’ve written a good structure but you’ve still a long way to go.

Glancing over at your to-do list, “write blog post” is still there, taunting you. Despite your effort, you still have not completed your task.

If you only have one thing to tick off, your brain thinks “not there yet, not there yet” like a bored child on a long car journey. And just like the parent of the child, it can make you feel irritable and frustrated.

On a car journey, you might play games and distract the child’s attention to the journey, rather than focusing only on the destination.

You need to do the same, and a checklist is the perfect game to play.

Breaking down all the little steps that go into writing a piece of content does two things to improve your productivity:

  1. It shows you’re making progress, boosting your confidence
  2. You can use the same checklist as a system for future writing, making it easier next time

What might you include on your checklist for a blog post for example?

  1. Choose a topic
  2. Highlight 4-5 points to make
  3. Create a placeholder title
  4. Draft sections
  5. Edit
  6. Polish subheadings
  7. Create headline
  8. Choose an image
  9. Format
  10. Final polish, proof, and publish

Once you’ve conquered any overwhelm and have a checklist to follow, it’s time to write. And this next step is an important one.

Three: Fall in love with the chaos of a first draft

Don’t worry if your first draft is nothing more than a rambling expansion of your thoughts on the subject you’ve chosen.

Don’t self-edit, don’t look at the squiggly red lines that tell you there’s a typo, just keep going and know that:

  • Your draft will not be as bad as you think it is
  • At this stage, momentum is better than high-quality

This isn’t the stage where you should even be thinking about writing a great sentence, it’s really just a place to develop your thoughts and put them in order.

It’s a bit like spring cleaning — there’s always that point where you’re knee deep in junk thinking: “this looks worse than when I started!”

What we’re aiming for at this stage is not brilliance, but completion.

Because you know what happens then? You get to check it off!

Four: Use a notepad to capture “sticky thoughts”

Often when writing you can be distracted or knocked off course by thoughts that spring into your head, for example:

  • Do I need to explain that term I’ve used?
  • Should that subhead address the reader directly?
  • I must remember to link to that resource I mentioned

If you think about them too long, they can clog up your momentum and get you stuck, so have a notepad nearby to capture these ‘sticky thoughts.’

Here’s how it works:
If a thought pops into your mind that doesn’t directly relate to the next sentence you’re writing:

  • Jot it down quickly on a separate notepad
  • Forget about it

Ideally you want the notepad just out of sight so you’re not tempted to glance over to it and start thinking about these thoughts instead of writing your content. Come back to your list once you’ve completed your draft. See what you need to include and what you can deal with another time.

Five: Take a break to avoid Writer’s Eye

No matter how productive you’re feeling, take a break between writing and editing, otherwise you get writer’s eye.

Writer’s eye is a very serious condition which I’ve just made up. It means that when you work on the same piece of writing for too long, strange things happen:

  • Everything takes twice as long
  • You make errors
  • You miss things

Even Stephen King advocates letting drafts settle before you come back to work on them again, and he’s not a bad writer. 😉

How long you wait is up to you. I like to leave my drafts overnight because:

  • I have more energy
  • My subconscious seems to help me out with new ideas overnight

So after your break, when you edit your draft, what are you looking to do?

  • Tidy up those sentences so that they make sense
  • Make sure your content flows logically
  • Make sure you’re making one point per paragraph
  • Make sure it’s formatted and spaced out so it’s easy to read
  • Make sure sentences aren’t too long
  • Create eye-catching subheadings
  • Develop a strong headline
  • Choose a suitable image

Feel free to copy that list of things to add to your checklist and yep, check them off when they’re done!

Where to next?

Your content is part of a long-term conversation with your customer, so always give them somewhere to go next.

If you’re writing a blog post you might want to link to your newsletter or related articles, or a relevant product.

The more you practice writing pieces through to completion, the faster you’ll get, the more productive you’ll be, and you’ll have a wealth of great marketing pieces working hard to attract people to your business.

Perfect for anyone who wants to have a Big Brand!

Pamela Wilson

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21 thoughts on “Your Step-by-Step Guide to Writing More in Less Time”

  1. All great points. I recently renewed my app-crush with Evernote and use that to keep ideas, headlines, and snippets, but now I actually do my writing in there as well so everything is together.

    Point #3 is something I definitely need to get better at. I’m a compulsive self-editor.

    • Love that you keep all your ideas and headlines together Dave, that’s a great way to chip away at the writing process.

      Self-editing is a tricky one to overcome. When you realise that no-one ever has to ever see that first draft…ever (really) getting that first draft out can be fun. It’s like being a kid going finger-painting, knowing a professional (you) will tidy it later. Just have fun and get it all down, sometimes there’s magic in the messiness. 🙂

  2. Hey! I just heard all this good stuff on the Hit Publish podcast, Amy. (You sneaky/clever/brilliant content creator, you.) 😉

    But now that I’m here …

    Allow me to offer up a round of APPLAUSE!

    • Ha! You keen listener / reader you.

      I know some people love to listen and some love to read so wanted to get this message out to all. Glad you enjoyed both!

      (p.s. you get a shoutout on next week’s HitPublish…)

      Thanks!

  3. Dishes and laundry! Great ways to avoid writing.
    Love the “knee deep in junk” reference. First draft heaven for sure.
    You’ve hit the things that slow the writing process down Amy.
    I have experience with them all.
    I guess its something a person outgrows.
    Excellent post.
    Thanks.

    • Great to hear from you Barry! Doing a lot of writing certainly speeds up your process and you’ll find you develop your own systems over time to get the writing done. Just keep going!

  4. Looking at that checklist (instead of the daunting ‘write a post’), I feel immediate relief, love it! And aiming for completion, and sticky thoughts — all perfect take aways for me. Thanks Amy I feel lighter and energised…this was a productive procrastination break for me, I’m ready to get back it now.

  5. Hi Amy,

    Gosh, is it bad that I suffer from ALL those ailments from time to time? I’m easily distracted. I feel overwhelmed. Some days… I feel stuck.

    Of course, I think we all go through those periods. There are weeks and months where things are easy. Post idea? Check! Title? Check? 2k words? Check! We’re like machines — boring, easily-wounded machines, but machines nonetheless.

    And then we have those periods where “Iron Chef” keeps distracting us on TV. Hours go by and we have nothing to show for it. (Other than the knowledge Bobby Flay loses… a lot.)

    It’s those moments where your tips will come in handy for me, Amy.

    I need to know “good enough” is good enough. I need checklists to distract my fragile lil’ brain. I need to take breaks in order to avoid Writer’s Eye. (I had that once for real, by the way. My eyes turned pink. My wife said it was something called “pink eye”, but I knew better. It was Writer’s Eye.)

    So, I’ll definitely bookmark this post so I can come back to it later.

    I also shared it on my Facebook page. Hope you and Pamela don’t mind. 😀

    Hope you’re doing well, Amy. Great work! And Pamela, love your site.

    -Kevin

    • Thanks for reading and sharing Kevin!

      You also face an added challenge because you write long and in-depth posts, they’re like 4 blog posts in 1 sometimes. 🙂 All the more reason to break it down and make it easy on you so you can keep turning out great content and helping your readers.

      Keep going. There’s a lot to be said for brute force sometimes. I know Pamela is an advocate of turning up at the page inspiration or no inspiration and it does work.

      When I studied screenwriting our tutors told us to write every day whether we felt creative or not, they said that if we looked back on the work we’d done over a month we wouldn’t be able to tell which were our ‘creative’ days and which ones weren’t.

      And it was true. 🙂

  6. Hi Amy,

    This is the first time I’ve hopped on to your blog. Glad I did it :).

    You’ve beautifully touched on so many points on writing the draft,breaking it down into actionable and small bits and overall not being too harsh on ourselves while we write.

    Loved your checklist. Short and sweet.

    I’ll surely be coming back to your blog to learn a lot more from your writing.

    Thanks,

    Patricia

    • Thanks for stopping by Patricia! Really pleased you enjoyed the article and found it useful. I write as a guest blogger for Big Brand System, but definitely keep reading, the articles here are excellent for helping you market your business and get your brand out into the world. 🙂

      Amy.

  7. Amy, thank you for this post. The big takeaway for me is a focus on “the next sentence”…else the thought goes to the notepad. I find myself writing a section, then wanting to go do something (send a text, check e-mail, etc.); hopefully this will help to focus first on the next sentence.

    • Thanks for commenting Corbb!

      I use this rule because I’m the worst culprit for it (ooh I should contact so and so, I need to make sure this is done on the website). It’s good to know you’re still catching these ideas, but they’re not stopping the flow of your work.

      Good luck!

    • Thanks Tanja – great to see you over here.

      There have been times when I thought I didn’t need to take a break between writing and editing… something always slips through on account of my “Writer’s Eye” 🙂

  8. This is the toughest thing and I almost hate writing myself but as an internet marketer and coach, I know how much important it is for my profession. Truly speaking, I am not sure whether this will motivate me in writing or not, but for sure I collected some ideas which will help me a lot. I am going to share this post directly with my co-founder and I am sure she is going to love and applaud it.

    • Hey Soumya!

      Thanks for listening and commenting. You’re right, there’s no ‘quick’ fix for motivating yourself to write, but this list gives you some things that make things easier.

      Because the magic lies in the routine. When you establish a pattern of writing regularly (whether you want to or not) you’ll find you do write faster, ideas come easier and suddenly you’re more productive than you could have imagined!

  9. Quote: “If you’re writing a blog post you might want to link to your newsletter or related articles, or a relevant product.”

    Amy, typically, the blog post IS the content for a newsletter. In what cases does a blog post link to a newsletter?

    • Hi Vince,

      Thanks for commenting! Excellent question.

      There are a couple of ways you might want to link to your newsletter. One is to the sign up page for your newsletter (I should have made that clearer). If someone has enjoyed your blog post, you can link to the landing page for your newsletter to encourage them to convert from reader to subscriber.

      There may also be a time when you want to link to a public version of your newsletter. Many companies provide alternative content for their newsletter that is just for subscribers and not readily available on the blog. Some do down-ups of useful posts, or mention upcoming industry events, or even write completely separate, useful content.

      At the end of a post, you may want to promote a particularly popular newsletter, and say: “this is the kind of thing you can receive if you subscribe to the newsletter, if you like it, sign-up” etc.

      There are many opportunities to ‘cross-pollenate’ your content like this, it’s all about testing and choosing the methods that work for you.

      Hope that clears it up for you and thanks for reading!

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