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Don't Overthink It! Write Better Blog Posts, Faster

ProductivityBlogs

How long should a blog post take to write? As long as you decide it deserves.

With so many factors (e.g., word count, blog audience, quality of writing, deciding subject matter, etc.), trying to hit a benchmark isn’t helpful. Instead, focus on improving your efficiency.

When Belle Cooper from Buffer started out, she took one-to-two full days to write a post. Now, it takes her four hours.

You become faster with practice, and here’s some advice to guide you.

Stop Second-Guessing Yourself

People often face writer’s block because they judge their words as they write.

Save the editing process for the end. While you’re writing, your only goal is to let the words flow onto the page. As journalist and writer Stefan Hostetter said, focus on the emotions you want to convey, and be honest with yourself and your readers.

“When you’re writing by yourself, nobody else is going to see it. Then you can edit out parts you don’t feel you should say,” Stefan said. “But if you don’t get to honesty first, you're never going to tell a compelling story and you’re going to have a much harder time getting people to pay attention.”

In fact, the more honest and unfiltered you are with your first draft, the less editing you may need. Many writers have the notion that an edited piece of writing is always better than what you initially wrote. That’s not necessarily true; your initial instincts are often correct. This means that even though editing is key, consider that how you first write a particular sentence may be best - you don’t have to change it.

Perfect your Posture

Achieving flow while writing is directly related to your mental and physical state. Having good posture provides a relaxed energy that liberates your creative voice. Similarly, turning off your internal voices fosters peace of mind and gives you space to focus on your words.

Tip: Try using a standing desk to maintain posture and keep your blood flowing while you work.

Walk Away, If You Can

As writers, sometimes we’ll beat a piece of work to death. We may spend hours crafting sentences, editing and re-editing, and still not feel satisfied with the final product. Writing is a creative process, and sometimes we get burnt out and lose our ability to accurately assess our work.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a draft and thought it was terrible; but when I re-read my work the next day with fresh eyes, I realized it was actually quite good.

That’s why it’s important to give yourself a day between drafting and submitting a piece of work (when deadlines allow). When you sleep on your writing, you see things in a different light and are able to edit more efficiently.

Tip: Try alternating between two pieces to give yourself a change of scenery.

Keep it Conversational: Say What You Mean

Many writers develop their skills writing formal essays in school. While formal writing has a lot to teach, it doesn’t translate into writing for journalism, blogs, communications, or marketing.

These forms of writing aim to connect with readers on an emotional level, which requires you to write as if you’re speaking directly to them. This is called conversational writing.

It doesn’t mean literally recording yourself and writing out your words; there are unnatural pauses and unintended grammar mistakes when we speak. Instead, we want to write clearly and concisely, so that when we do read our writing out loud, it flows and sounds natural.

Here are some key ways to keep your writing conversational:

  1. Less is more. If you can rephrase something using less words, do it (unless it would completely change the meaning). Keep it simple and direct. Eliminate unnecessary words like ‘that’ and avoid redundancy.

    For example, instead of saying “The application of market research principles in the nonprofit world can play a significant role in shaping the direction of your nonprofit,” we can say “Applying market research principles can significantly shape the direction of your nonprofit” (saying ‘in the nonprofit world’ is redundant, as it’s implied by the last clause of the sentence)

  2. Use the active voice, not the passive voice. The active voice drives the action and makes your writing more engaging.

    For example, instead of saying “The flowers were trimmed by their neighbour”, it’s more effective (and concise) to say “Their neighbour trimmed the flowers”

    3. Say it in layman’s terms by avoiding complex words. Write to be understood, and you’ll save readers from checking the dictionary. Sometimes a complex word describes something no other word can; but for most situations, use a common synonym.

    For example, instead of saying “They aroused my interest in social enterprises by illuminating their benefits” you can say “They made me interested in social enterprises by explaining their benefits”.

Peer-Editing Shouldn’t be Optional

While editing your own work is useful and necessary, you’re always at a disadvantage; you already know what you’re trying to say. Your mind fills in the blanks for you, making any lack of clarity in your writing hard to spot.

That’s why peer-editing is important. Someone with no context or background is in a better position to determine whether your writing makes sense.

Besides, no matter how many times you look over your work, you always miss something! Peer-editing should be treated as a necessity, not a luxury.

Avoid Gumption Traps!

Philosopher and novelist Robert M. Pirsig coined the term ‘gumption trap’ in his famous book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s “an event or mindset that can cause a person to lose enthusiasm and become discouraged from starting or continuing a project,” according to Wikipedia.

As writers, it’s important to be aware of our emotions, attitudes and approaches to our work to avoid getting caught in gumption traps. Here are three common gumption traps, and tips to avoid them.

Anxiety

You’re so sure you’ll do everything wrong you’re afraid to do anything at all. Often this, rather than ‘laziness,’ is the real reason you find it hard to get started. - Robert M. Pirsig

Anxiety stems from ‘overmotivation’ and can make you excessively fussy or perfectionistic, causing unnecessary errors.

Break this cycle by working out your anxieties on paper. Read on the subject. Understanding where your anxiety is coming from creates peace of mind, allowing you to engage with your writing.

Tip: Don’t worry about results! Stick to your process, and forget about polishing sentences until you have a draft.

Boredom

Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity…[and] my favourite cure for boredom is sleep.  - Robert M. Pirsig

If you can take power naps at work, do it. Otherwise, a bathroom break or walk around the office suffices to get you back on track.

It’s important to recognize when you’re bored; it’s a sign you need a break. And if you don’t have an impending deadline, sometimes it’s best to leave it to tomorrow.

You’ll always have renewed creative energy when you return to your work!

Tip: Listen to your body; forcing work when you’re not in the right mindset sets you up for frustration.

Impatience

Impatience...always results from...an underestimation of the amount of time the job will take.  - Robert M. Pirsig

Ever had the goal to write a blog in four hours straight? This creates pressure to perform, and can make you rush to finish, which hinders the quality of your work.

Slow down. Approaching writing with a relaxed, calm and focused mindset creates a flow in your work that actually increases your productivity and quality. Of course we all have deadlines to meet, but focusing on your work, rather than rushing it, gives the best results.

Tip: Don’t rush your work! Relax, engage, and have fun - even when you feel you’ve “lost time” because of an error or procrastination.

Combat Anxiety, Boredom and Impatience with the Pomodoro Technique

Named after a pomodoro (tomato) kitchen timer, Francesco Cirillo developed this technique in the late 80s.

A pomodorro kitchen timer

It breaks tasks down into 25-minute ‘pomodoros’, which lessens anxiety by working in manageable chunks, combats boredom by forcing breaks, and softens impatience by measuring success on how well you focused rather than whether you met your goals.

You also recap and review your work between pomodoros to assess your progress towards your goals.

 There are six steps in the technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes, but do what works best for you)
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down on paper, but immediately get back on task.
  4. After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 1.
  6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

The Pomodoro Technique has many benefits.

Writing down distracting thoughts actually increases focus, because getting them out of your head makes it less likely for them to return (and those thoughts help create comprehensive to-do lists too!).

Similarly, because you’re recording your progress on each task and the time it took, you’re automatically creating raw data for self-observation and improvement - which is great for calculating ROI!

Pomodoros also create sense of accomplishment, and take pressure off performance; it lays groundwork for you to do your best with the time you have.

They also help eliminate external distractions; 25 minutes is reasonable amount of time to not respond to a social media post, text message or email. This empowers you to focus without worrying about dropping other tasks.

Tip: Apps like Tomato Timer, TickTockTimer and Online Stop Watch (if you want a ticking sound) can track time in your browser.

Give the Pomodoro Technique a try! Along with the other tips outlined, you’ll be writing up a storm in no time - and having fun doing it!