I write on plenty of sites: I have a client list that keeps me hoping, this blog, the blog for my consulting and a couple of other projects. That means that I write — a lot. This morning, Chris Brogan published a post titled, How to Write Three Blog Posts a Day. I commented with a few thoughts from how I’ve organized my workflow, which Chris followed up with a comment that he’d be interested in seeing how I write as much as I do.
For the longest time, I thought the amount that I write is fairly normal. I shoot for between three and four thousand words a day and, more often than not, I hit the 4k mark. I know now that isn’t so much a normal amount as a little odd. A lot of that, though, I attribute to how I write. So, here we go.
Generating Ideas — and Lots of ‘Em
Everything is a potential post topic to me. I read, watch movies and even hold conversations with my friends, all with a tendency to stop in the middle and scribble down some spark of an idea. Some of them are usable, some aren’t — just be glad that I never followed up on my idea of ’10 Things Writers Can Learn from Veronica Mars — but they all wind up in the same place: Evernote.
The biggest reason I use Evernote is because adding new notes is extremely easy. I have an app on my phone so I can just type things in, a plugin in my browser so I can clip articles I come across and I can even log in and type directly into my account if I’m away from all my own gear. I keep a notebook for every blog I’m currently working on, as well as for blogs I’d love to start in the future. I even have a couple dozen ideas for posts for a gardening blog if I could ever find the time to start one.
In a lot of cases, these notes are just short phrases. I try to write down my notes in a format that could be used as the headline, but that doesn’t always happen. I also try to include the keywords for the potential post’s topic, so that if I want to write a couple of posts about the same theme, I can quickly find ideas that I’ve had around that topic.
Evernote is free, for a certain level of usage that — even with having more than a thousand potential topic ideas saved — I haven’t come close to hitting. However, it’s a tool that I’d be happy to pay for. I’m considering upgrading to a premium account so that I can dump files (like a press release sent to me in a .doc format) directly in. I’d also like to support the creators of such a wonderful tool.
Planning Multiple Editorial Calendars
Once a month, I sit down with my folders full of ideas and start planning out my editorial calendar. I like to have my calendar planned out two months ahead when possible. That far out gives me a couple of opportunities:
- I can work ahead if I’m planning to take a couple of days off
- I can arrange for interviews and resources for my posts
- I can get someone to help me with any research or images I need, or even subcontract work to another writer
- I can run post ideas by clients and get approval with enough time to make changes
My editorial calendar isn’t iron-clad, though. I build in flexibility and I’m always willing to add something extra in. For instance, my editorial calendar did not say that I was going to be writing about my own workflow. I bumped the post for today and removed a post that I haven’t gotten around to writing about down the line (the removed past was going to be about entrepreneurial journalism, if you’re curious).
I use two Google Docs spreadsheets to manage my editorial calendar. One is dedicated to my own projects and one is dedicated to client work. It’s not just posts on those calendars, either. If I have long term projects, I’ll break them up into chunks and add them in. I also include plans for newsletters, articles for publications I don’t write for regularly and so on. I’ve got things organized so that I can see at a glance how a week will go. If it looks too busy, I’ll move things around as necessary. I also include dollar amounts on work for clients. It doesn’t have anything to do with my overall planning, but it gives me a little extra motivation to keep going.
Writing Means Rear End in Chair
The easiest way I’ve found to get all my writing done is to sit down and do it. I plan on writing for four hours every morning — I don’t make appointments during that time when I can help it. I do my best work in the morning, about an hour and a half after I wake up. I spend that first hour or so doing puzzles, eating breakfast and generally getting my brain going again. I’m a complete zombie when I first get out of bed so immediately writing just doesn’t work for me. Furthermore, four hours of solid writing can be pretty draining. I’m almost never able to come back to writing after lunch and that’s okay.
I use a timer to keep myself focused. I typically set it for fifteen minutes, after which I get up and stretch and move around. I hurt my back, so I’m not really supposed to sit for more than fifteen minutes straight anyway, and I’ve found that the fifteen minute slot pushes me to get as much done in that time as I can. I just write the next thing on my editorial calendar that hasn’t been completed yet. No fancy prioritization system is needed, because — for me, at least — the deadline is everything.
Even when I’m traveling, I try to do my writing in the morning (and I try not to skip it, assuming I’m traveling on a weekday). There are times when that simply isn’t an option, but I find that if I’ve taken a few days away from writing, it’s harder to get back into the swing of things. I tend to write, although not as much, on the weekends, as well. I enjoy my work and I’m happy to do it. Interruptions in general can throw me off my game, though. I’ve had dental appointments first thing in the morning: I go in at 8:30 a.m. and I’m back at my computer by 10. But those days are pretty much a lost cause for me. I can get a little writing done, usually, but it’s like pulling teeth.
Thinking Beyond Blog Posts
I do more than just writing blog posts every day and my system reflects that. I’ll just as often write a section of an ebook as a new post. I keep ideas for new writing projects in Evernote, I slot them into my editorial calendar and write them during my dedicated writing time.
This is the system to me. I’m not necessarily a slave to the system, but I’ve arranged things to be as simple as possible, so that I can get in and get my work done. After the day’s writing is done, there are still plenty of other tasks to do — emails to send, images to find and so on — and I’ve got different systems in place for those tasks. My way may not work for you, for what it’s worth. It took me a good deal of experimenting to figure out exactly when my best writing time is, for instance. But I do heartily recommend Evernote and, when in doubt, try using a timer to keep yourself focused.