I blame grade school teachers. Even if it has never happened to you personally, writing has often been used as a form of punishment.
In the opening credits of the Simpsons, Bart is at the chalkboard, making amends for some unknown schoolboy crime.
How is he being punished? He’s being made to write.
Over and over and over again. Yuck! Gross! Writing endlessly? What a nightmare. No thank you.
Here’s the problem, and I’ve said this many times before, that in order for your online business to thrive, you need content. Lots of content. Great content.
You need to feed content to the ever-ravenous Google beast and you need content to lure in more humans. It’s just the time we live in. Think of this as The Age of Content.
Great news for English majors. Seemingly horrible news for extremely busy, already overworked business owners. The notion of having to stop everything and sit down to write is enough to tip one’s busy mindframe over into “harried” territory.
But wait. Take a breath. Before you envision hours slogging away at your computer, researching, writing, spellchecking….please know that it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways – tricks, really – that you can speed up the writing process until it’s just as fast and maybe even as fun as writing an email to a friend.
13 Ways to Write an Effective Article in 15 Minutes
Use all of these 13 tips and tricks or just use a few. Whatever it takes to get you cranking out great writing and whatever helps you dread it less. We procrastinate what we dread and writing a lot is too important to put off!
1. Read First
Probably the biggest mistake people make is to allow themselves to stare at a blank Word doc before they begin. What to write, what to write, what to write?
Don’t do this to yourself. Before you ever start to write, take 10-15 minutes to just Google your topic. Seek out articles that exactly cover the topic you want to write about. Read them and immerse yourself in the topic.
I’m not suggesting you plagiarize, at all. But reading about your topic first can spark great new ideas. Note any stats, quotations or other links that you might want to use to beef up your own article and then…
2. Cut and Paste
One of the biggest time killers when you’re writing is flipping back and forth between windows. Jumping from your Word doc, over to an online article you read, or worse – stopping to Google something while you’re mid-stream writing is the perfect way to bring your progress to a screeching halt.
Instead, do all your reading and researching first and cut and paste any relevant copy right into your document. Again, I’d never suggest you cut and paste it in and then just leave it as is.
The idea is to get the meat of the information cut and pasted right into your document and you can massage and rewrite it later. But having it all sitting there in one place, on “home base”, keeps you grounded in that document and focused on knocking out the article.
3. Let Images Do The Work
Another fantastic way to shortcut an article is to let great photos or other graphics bulk up the piece and do the heavy lifting for you. If you are researching a topic and come across an absolutely killer infographic or chart that outlines an important point for your article, link it!
Don’t ‘steal’ it without permission but by all means put it in there and give full credit and an actual hyperlink back to the site you found it on. Not only will this beef up your article a bit, but you might even make a new blog connection who will one day send traffic back to your site!
4. Chat About It
A great way to crystallize what you want to say in your article is to first talk it out. Call a friend, turn to a coworker, ask your spouse at lunch what they think about the topic you’re writing about.
By bouncing it off someone else, you may get new angles you hadn’t thought of and you definitely will clarify your viewpoint on that topic.
5. Bullet it Out
Once you have that Word doc open and you have cut and pasted any research, stats, quotations and graphics, it’s time to bullet out and rearrange what you want to say, in order. Chances are, your work is 99% done already.
Break each ‘point’ into a short phrase and create something of a bulleted list (without the bullets.) Once you do this and flow everything into one cohesive train of thought, you’re almost ready to actually write.
6. Turn off Spellcheck and Grammar Check
You’re almost ready, but not quite. Just like a pilot doing final checks of all this equipment in the cockpit before he actually starts flying, you need to do the same for your writing environment. You need to set yourself up for success.
The first way to do this is to turn off your auto-spellcheck and grammar check. Typing something and seeing those squiggly lines will stop you midstream. The urge to backspace and correct your work as you go will simply be too irresistible. And remember, the name of the game is just burning through it.
Writing truly does become easier and faster if you just plain keep at it, so anything that helps you focus and keep cranking it out is something you should be doing. Before you start writing.
7. Go Full Screen & Zero Sound
Sounds silly but an easy way to keep yourself focused is to set your Word program (or whatever one you’re using) to be in fullscreen view while you type. And mute your speakers.
This way you can see and hear nothing but the page. No blinking emails arriving, calling you like the seductive sirens in Ulysses. No Skype pinging like crazy, making you wonder who needs you and how urgent it might be.
If you’re doing this right, you should only need to ‘go dark’ for about 15 minutes. That’s nothing. It can wait.
8. Outside Distractions
Shut your home office door, tell the kids not to knock for at least an hour. Silence your cell phone. And please, oh, please, turn off the TV. I’m always amazed by how many entrepreneurs who try to get work done with “CNN muted in the background.”
Really? Why? Are you the President or Prime Minister and need to be informed on a minute-to-minute basis? Turn it off, you’ll be 10,000% more productive.
This might be overkill for some but I personally love this trick. Set a timer. Preferably a loud, annoying old school one that ticks away on the surface of your desk. When you’re ready to write, crank it to 30 minutes and don’t stop writing until the timer goes off, or you have a complete article.
Whichever comes first. It’s definitely adds a psychological, competitive challenge and you’ll be surprised how much it can help you stay on task.
10. Notebook Handy
This tip could actually be good for the researching as well as writing phase. Keep a good old-fashioned notebook and pen handy. Always.
While you’re researching (and often when you’re even writing) a new idea will pop into your head. Take a quick second, jot down just enough of a phrase so that you’ll understand it later, and then go back to writing.
These are fantastic ‘kernels’ of ideas for future content, and you don’t want to lose them. Make them super easy to record.
11. Let it Come Naturally, Be Flexible
Some of the best things I’ve ever written were actually supposed to be completely different articles. For instance, I once attempted to write no-more-than-1400 words about a certain topic. But when I ‘got going’ I really dove deep and when I hit the 1400 mark, I realized that I only covered about half of the points I originally wanted to cover.
And you know what? That’s totally okay. I didn’t go back and sweat over what words to cut so that I could jam in more points. I simply broke it up into a two-parter.
In other words, don’t be rigid. Let the piece take you where it naturally wants to go. You will end up with more authentic, much more interesting copy.
12. Write the Lead, Second to Last
Never try to write the lead sentences first. You’ll stare and freeze up and rub your temples, trying to think of that perfectly clever opener. Don’t do it.
Instead, jump right into the meat of the article. Go to bullet #1 and start writing about that. Then move on to #2, etc. When you are done with the article, only then should you return to the opening paragraph and pen a clever, catchy opener. By then your creative juices will be flowing and you’ll have a much better sense of what the article is really about, anyway.
13. Write the Title, Last
Once you have the article written and have read it over, go ahead and write that lead sentence or two. And then and only then, write the title. Why? For the same reason I outlined in #11. Trying to write the title first before the piece is written is like trying to write a review of a rock concert before it ever happens. How can you know what’s going to happen?
Let the piece come alive first and then lock in the title afterwards. This will give you more freedom and again – keep you from stopping and starting and trying to force your article in a specific direction.
Overall, the idea is to ‘grease the chute’, so to speak. Every tip I listed above is aimed at helping you make writing effortless, focused and above all, fast. Once you get a system down, you’ll stop dreading that content creation time and start looking forward to how quickly you can crank out copy. You might even monitor and track your “personal best.”
Do you dread writing or love it? If you loathe it, why? What are the worst sticking points in your own writing process? Tell me in the comments below.
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