2015 was the first year I got paid to be a writer, and with all appropriate modesty I think it went pretty well.
During that time I produced around 200 articles, all at least 1,000 words. (My record was 2,700 in a day.)
Theses articles were published on various sites around the web, including this one (yay MarketerGizmo!), SurveyGizmo.com, Content Marketing Institute, Convince and Convert, the Wrike Blog, RightMixMarketing, and Business2Community.
For other writers out there who are looking to hit a similar production level, I’ve pulled together my top five tips for becoming more prolific this year.
Whatever you’re aiming to accomplish in 2016, I hope one or two of these pointers will help push you to the next level.
Writing Tip #1: Online Writing Is Never Totally Done
I’ll be honest: not every one of those 200 articles is Pulitzer material. Some of them could use another round of edits, yet they are published and being read by real live people.
That used to stress me out. Now, not so much.
Because the thing about writing online is that it’s never really done.
You can (and should) be constantly revisiting your work, particularly if you’re writing about topics that are constantly evolving (like marketing).
One example is an article from early in MarketerGizmo’s life about B2B companies marketing on Pinterest. I wrote it before Pinterest introduced their “Buy” button, which significantly altered the possibilities for marketing there.
I went back, updated the page, and republished the article.
How to Know When Edits Are in Order
For MarketerGizmo we track search engine rankings, click through rates, and time on page for all our articles, and I routinely use that data to go back and revise things to try and make the articles a more enjoyable experience for those who are considering reading them.
Just pull your Google Webmaster tools data into a spreadsheet, sort it by the click through rate (CTR) on your organic search results, and commit to revising the three to five pages that have the lowest CTR each week.
This cycle can be a source of annoyance, but it can also be freeing. It allows you to get a piece of writing out into the world and walk away from it knowing that it’ll come back onto your radar.
Come back to it in a couple of weeks with fresh eyes, and you’ll almost certainly find a headline that you could tighten up or *gasp* a typo that you missed.
Writing Tip #2: Give Yourself an Agile Content Schedule
Over the past 18 months our content production calendar has shifted almost constantly, but our strategy (providing genuinely useful content that helps marketers do their jobs better) has never wavered.
By working on an agile team I’ve been able to make adjustments in the type of content I produce, the topics it covers, and its publication schedule while staying true to larger organizational goals.
Basically, I rarely plan content more than three weeks in advance.
I have this luxury because I’m a solo content creator; if things need to shift I’m usually the only one directly affected.
As our team grows we’ll need to systematize the calendar more effectively, but even then we’ll experience changes in our tactics. Particular articles will perform better than expected, while others just won’t have legs.
Using Data to Guide Content
When things go well, we do more like it AND more with it; when an article doesn’t have what it takes, we either revise it or revisit the topic from a new angle that may be more helpful.
This kind agility also lets me slide more research-intensive topics into dates that allow for more background reading. When I did a piece on co-citation and co-occurence, for example, I knew I’d need to do more research than usual because the topics were advanced.
This would not have been a good article to schedule for publication right after a holiday, or during a week when I had a ton of meetings. I blocked off time on my calendar to devote to the article, and it turned out pretty well.
Writing Tip #3: Managing the Research Monster
It’s hard for marketers to admit it, but most of us aren’t experts on everything. So, to write a helpful article on something that falls outside my area of expertise I need to do research.
Even when I’m covering a topic I’m familiar with, I need to cite other authorities to give my content further weight.
This is where many new writers and content marketers get stuck.
It’s easy to feel that you aren’t prepared to create content unless you’ve read everything that’s been written about your topic in the last three years, but that’s just not feasible (or necessary) most of the time.
Finding the balance between doing ALL THE RESEARCH and doing enough to provide value to your readers is a tough one, but it’s one that lies at the heart of being a prolific content marketer.
My pro tip on this one? Trust your gut.
You can tell if a website is reputable very quickly. Reading just a few lines of an article can give you insight into its quality.
Ignore the questionable information. Focus on what resonates with you, and pull that all together with your own unique insights.
How I Research in an Hour or Less
When I’m on the hunt for good information for an article, I follow the same basic steps every time:
- Do a Google search and scan the top 10 results. If something looks promising, right click the title and open the page in a new browser tab.
- Repeat for 3-5 different search phrases depending on the complexity of your topic and how many keywords you yourself and targeting. Cut yourself off somewhere around 15 total tabs.
- Now go into the tabs that you opened and give them a scan. Do you see patterns? Is everybody mentioning the same point? It’s probably worth reading those sections. Same goes for the anomalies: if there’s something only one post mentions, give it a read to see if it’s worth doing further investigation on.
- As you read, copy particularly important or well-written sections into a document. I put each one underneath the URL it came from so I can find it later if needed.
- You’ll probably end up with 4-5 pages of copied “notes” from the research. I print it out and then make handwritten notes ALL OVER the page. This lets me find more patterns, things I particularly want to mention, and sections I should quote verbatim.
- Finally, I either sit down and start writing the actual article from intro to conclusion, or make an outline in the form of subheadings if I feel like I need more structure to guide my writing.
From the first Google search to a finished draft I run 2-4 hours.
Truthfully, since I also have to format the article for publication and create a supporting image, that’s the only way I can get multiple pieces done in a week.
Writing Tip #4: Don’t Get Too Attached
This applies to your intro paragraph, your favorite clever line, and even to an entire article.
They’re just words. You can write more. The delete button is your friend.
For a while I’d take an article to a team review session and the feedback would always be something like, “This gets interesting about four paragraphs down. I think you need to cut those first few.”
So I just started deleting my first couple of paragraphs no matter what, and it tightened up my content considerably. Sometimes that hurt because I was being very cute in those lines, but they weren’t driving home a point or delivering value to the reader. They had to go.
This applies particularly to guest posts, because those editors don’t have to see the sad puppy look on your face when they slash your favorite metaphor.
Don’t take it personally. It’s (almost never) about you. It’s about the quality of the work.
Absorb the feedback.
Make your writing better.
Then go vent in your journal where you can use all the flowery language and run on sentences you want.
Writing Tip #5: Don’t Work Outside of Office Hours
You might think that since I’m a solo content producer who churned out 200 articles in a year that I’ve got to be working 24-7.
That is absolutely not the case.
Except during rare cases of illness (mine or my kids’), corporate crisis, or crazy travel, I do my very, very best to keep my work-related writing on the clock.
This does two very important things:
- It keeps me from burning out. Agile teams know the work they’re expected to do and the timeline on which they’re expected to do it, so as long as I manage my time I should be able to get everything done on schedule. Spending twelve hours a day chained to my computer shouldn’t be necessary, and it’s definitely not healthy. Go to the gym. Read a book. Don’t look at a screen. It’ll help you be a better writer in the long run.
- It reinforces the realistic deadlines I set for myself. I commit to a content schedule that I know I can meet, but if I know I could skip the gym tomorrow to finish an article or stay late all week to hit a deadline then I’m prone to slack off. I’ll do busy work that isn’t moving me (or my team) toward a goal. By limiting my writing to office hours I create time scarcity that forces me to work smart and hard.
Share Your Content Tips
While I’m very proud of my 200 articles last year I think I can do better going forward. I’m making plans for a book in the near future, and that’s a whole different beast.
So, let me hear from you. How do you keep the writing mill working?
Give us your own pro tips in the comments!
Other Articles You Might Be Interested In:
- Content Marketing 11 Signs You've Created Great Content
- Content Marketing 5 Things I Did Instead of Writing After Content Marketing World
- Agile Marketing A Complete Guide to Agile Content Strategy: Personas, User Stories, and Story Mapping
- Content Marketing Content Marketing Enters the Trough: Themes & Lessons from Content Marketing World 2015
- Content Marketing Content Strategy and Language: Driving Strategy with Science