My writing process

I’ve been writing a lot more recently. Between, 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.

Your turn

So here is this post’s call to action (you had to see that coming). In fact, I’ll give you three of them:

  1. If you’re started writing but stopped, pick it up again and write for 15 minutes.
  2. If you regularly write but want to write more, set aside an hour this week, turn off all distractions, and write.
  3. 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.

Just write.