I’ve been writing a lot more recently. Between theadmin.org, Chirk HR, the Little Stream Software newsletter, and Chirk HR’s newsletter I’m probably close to writing a few thousand words per week. That’s not a lot for a writer but for a freelance developer and business builder, that feels like a lot.
One thing that has come out of this writing is a writing workflow. I use this same workflow for blog posts, newsletters, and web page copy.
One topic to rule them all
The first thing I do before I write a newsletter is to pick a topic. Ideally I’d want to write about something I know or learned about that I can share with my audience which helps them in one way. I’ve tried to be more helpful in the past by including multiple ways to help my audience in a single piece, but I found that really muddles the message and makes it less actionable.
One way to help per content
Once I know how I’d like to help, the topic follows easily. For example:
If I wanted to help people get over the fear of refactoring, a good topic might be how to Reduce the Risk When Refactoring. (Which has a nice alliteration to it too.)
Words on the page
Now that I have a topic, I need to get words on the page. I have a pretty heavy internal editor in my head, who would revise every word I write if I let him.[Hey, I saw that.]
To combat this I’d adopted a very free-form writing style. It’s part free writing and part brain dump but basically I just start typing and try my best to not stop or edit anything. Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes I get stuck but by getting as many words on the page, I have more I can edit out later.
while (true): edit
Depending on the topic and length of the writing, I might do a few things with the editing.
- For short writing, I might edit it right away.
- For longer writing, I try to let it sit for 24 hours and edit it the next day.
- For important writing like a critical marketing piece, I might make several rounds of edits and take a week or so to finish.
When editing I’ll check for the standard spelling, grammar, punctuation stuff but I also look at the larger flow of the piece.
- Does it make sense?
- Should parts be rearranged?
- Is this section too much of a tangent and should be saved for a later piece?
- Does this come across as a rant? Is that what I want?
- And the most important, it is clear how this helps my audience?
My goal with editing is to remove about 30-50% of the material I wrote originally. I’m not worried on the exact amount of material I remove, I just want to give myself the freedom to write extra upfront.
Titles, calls to action, and skimability
Once I have the writing solid enough, I go back through it and modify it to make it easier to read. This means giving it an attention getting title (but not too link-baity), adjusting the formatting to make it skimmable (short paragraphs, lists), and adding a clear call to action.
Much of the writing on the web, especially blog posts, misses the call to action. The author might have a great post on a great subject but they don’t give the reader anything to end with. It feels a lot like a journal entry. There’s nothing wrong with a journal entry, but if you’re trying to write with a goal in mind, you need to help them take the first step themselves.
That’s why I try to add or draw out a clear call to action in my writing. Many times it’s difficult but whenever I put some time and thought into it, the whole piece improves.
Don’t think a call to action is only for asking for someone to buy something. They can be as simple as asking for a comment, or some feedback about the writing, or try a new piece of open source software, or even just to read a related post. The key point is to make the action match the goal you have for the writing.
Once I’m happy with the writing I publish it. For blog posts this means copying the post into WordPress and scheduling it. For newsletters I’ll run it through a conversion program and copy the final writing into my mailing list software. For ebooks I’d add the writing to the ebook as a chapter or whatever.
The important thing is to publish it. Right now across four different files I have about 12,000 words that I’ve written, in various states of publication. I have one that is over 3,400 words that I haven’t touched in at least a year. That’s almost enough for a short ebook, just sitting on my hard drive.
So here is this post’s call to action (you had to see that coming). In fact, I’ll give you three of them:
- If you’re started writing but stopped, pick it up again and write for 15 minutes.
- If you regularly write but want to write more, set aside an hour this week, turn off all distractions, and write.
- If you haven’t tried free-writing yet, try it. Wikipedia has some information about it. The book Accidental Genius has more details but don’t feel like you have to read it to get started.