Writing blog posts is good. Taking forever to do them is not. (Hence, the reason we avoid writing them in the first place.)
If they took less time, you'd write more of them, right? Then you're going to love these 9 tips to make every blog post you write take way less time.
Ready? Of course you are.
Let us get on with tip number one.
1. Pick a topic that's both simple and easy for you.
Every single component of your blog post will be immeasurably faster and easier if you write about something you know best in the world.
The fastest blog posts come from topics that feel so intuitive that you can't really imagine why somebody would want to read it. These are the things you know like the back of your hand, things you can do with your eyes closed. The perfect topic is one that you could still speak intelligently about if someone woke you up out of a cold sleep and demanded an answer.
- How to make the perfect fried egg sandwich
- My favorite Italian shoe designers
- 9 tips for making bedtime easier
There's usually an element of the obvious in these types of topics. Using our fried egg sandwich example, you're happily sleeping away, and General Patton comes in and barks, “Give me tips, NOW!”
You rub your eyes a little and go, “Uh… make sure the burner's on the right heat?”
And you feel like a bit of an idiot for even mentioning something so dumb?
That's the first point in your outline. And speaking of outlines…
2. You need an outline. And it needs to take less than two minutes.
So there you are. It's three in the morning and you're hanging out with General Patton. You've mumbled something about the burner. Patton shouts, “Good! Now what else?”
What's your next answer? “Um… wait till the end to make the toast.”
Excellent. That's your next point.
Keep doing this until you start to slow down.
Like, you know when you make microwave popcorn, and it says to take it out when the pops slow down to two or three seconds between them? Yeah, it's pretty much the same with outlines.
You should get five or six points in the first minute or so. Then you'll slow down. You'll look over your list and see what you missed, what you've duplicated, what you can expand upon, or what you might want to add.
When you write your outline, if you're not WELL over halfway done by the 60 second mark, one of two things is happening:
One, you're thinking too hard. You have forgotten that General Patton is a busy fellow and doesn't have all day.
Or two, you picked the wrong topic. Luckily, if you did pick the wrong topic, you'll know within a minute, so it's not like you're out a lot of time.
(Note: After this, you're allowed to change your outline. You can move things so they're in a better order, or skip points, or add points, or trash a point entirely because you realize it would make the perfect spin-off. You don't need to KEEP your outline. You just need to make it quickly.)
3. Kill the fancy intro
OK, so you've got your outline. You're ready to write. You sit down at the keyboard. Aaaaand… crickets.
For any piece of writing, the hardest part to write is the beginning. It's true for you, it's true for me, it's true for Faulkner. The beginning sucks. (The end ain't so hot either, which we'll get to in a minute.)
If you're shooting for fast, kill your intro. Kill the opening story, the set-up, the beautiful narrative arc. We don't need 500 words on why you love fried egg sandwiches, or how you used to screw up fried egg sandwiches, or how much your kids love the gooey eggs.
Slay the whole lot and start something like this:
“For a long time, I struggled with how to make the perfect fried egg sandwich. But my mother-in-law – amazing cook of all things egg – gave me a few tips that I thought I'd pass on to you. Everything here is easy and beginner friendly (no perfect flipping required) and if you follow these tips, your whole family will be happily munching in no time.”
See? It's fine.
(Social Media Examiner does this hilariously well. Pretty much every intro is simply a repetition of the title. Sometimes it's clunky, but it gets the job done and it's great for search. Check this baby out. If they can do it, you can do it.)
4. Timebox your sections
Timeboxing is one of my favorite tricks for getting things done. It's based on Parkinson's Law – a task takes as long as the box of time you give it. You can hack the law by giving yourself a very limited amount of time.
It's pretty simple, really. You take a box of time – in this case, we'll say five minutes – and you force your task to fit within it. We tend to do this fairly frequently with larger tasks and larger chunks of time, but to my mind, its real magic lies in the little guys.
When you're writing a fairly simple blog post on a topic you know well, and you've outlined your points in a way you feel confident about, there's no reason a short section should take any longer than five minutes to write.
Knowing you're only giving yourself five minutes forces you to follow good writing practices. It forces you to write clean and neat. It eliminates unnecessary extrapolation and explanation. It gives you a little mini-deadline to shoot for. And it makes DAMN sure you get to the point. (Pro tip: Readers dig that.)
Using the timeboxing trick for such a small unit of time can take a little bit of practice, but if you try it five or 10 or 15 times (totalling somewhere between 25 and 75 minutes of your entire life) you'll have a skill you can use forever.
5. Tell, Don't Show
The most famous adage in novel writing is “Show, Don't Tell”. It means that your writing will be much more immersive and engaging if you describe what's happening rather than saying it outright.
“The wind whipped. The water lashing her face was sharp, and she squinted to make out the path ahead. She gripped her shawl and held it close around the bundle in her arms.”
“It was cold and rainy. The woman with the baby had trouble walking.”
The former shows. The latter tells. See? Better, right?
Better for novels, yes. Not so great for writing blog posts fast.
If you're trying to write blog posts quickly, you'll have a much easier time of it if you just get to the point. If it's cold and rainy? Say it's cold and rainy and get on with it. Crafting immersive description is hard. That's why it takes people five years to write a novel.
From a word count perspective, your blog post is 1-3% of a novel. If you want to write that while you're waiting at the DMV, you're going to need to learn this skill. Say what you want to say, as simply as you can possibly say it, and move on.
6. Short is ok if you don't ramble
Next up, length. In most cases, it's reasonable to assume that the length of your blog post correlates pretty fairly with the length of time it takes to write it. Sure, sometimes it takes longer to be perfectly concise. But most of the time, shorter posts take less time.
At the same time, there's a lot of advice supporting the idea that your blog posts have to be super long in order to have any value whatsoever. Like, if it's not a 5000 word ultimate guide, it's not really worth showing up for. Because, like, authority and stuff.
Authority And Stuff™ is certainly relevant to our concerns, but we don't need to write long to convey authority. Short is okay, too. The only thing we really want to be concerned with when we're writing short posts is that we make our words count.
An 800-word post with five really good, really usable points is perfectly respectable. An 1100-word post that's one good point and a whole lot of chit chat? It's longer, but it's “too short”. Not because of the number of words, but because of how much value the reader gets out of those words.
Make peace with shorter posts, and you'll be able to write them faster. And speaking of short…
7. Try writing shorter sentences.
This is a little tip from Mr. Hemingway himself. When you force yourself to write shorter sentences, the sentences will be stronger. They will have natural authority.
Strong, authoritative sentences lead to strong, authoritative paragraphs.
Strong, authoritative paragraphs lead to strong, authoritative pieces.
Strong, authoritative pieces lead to… strength. And authority!
If you simply change the way you write a little bit, you can accomplish more expertise, more gravitas, and simply more posts.
Let's look at an earlier sentence from this section.
“They will have natural authority.”
“They will have a type of natural authority that causes the reader to respect and pay attention to what you're saying, leading them to a better opinion of both you, and the piece.”
Pro tip: The first one's faster. It's also better.
All that time finding just the right analogy, the artful second clause, the perfect tricolon…
That time could be spent finishing the freaking thing.
8. Get over your need to sound awesome
If we want to write fast, we must ditch the ego component of our writing. We must ditch the quest to be witty, elegant, or clever. If we can content ourselves with our natural voice, without straining to turn it into something more than it is, we can write about as fast as we can think.
(Hint: That's really fast.)
It will be funny when it's funny. It will be elegant when it's elegant. It will be clever when it's clever. If we can let go of our attachment to sounding like anything other than we naturally are, our results will be simple, straightforward, and very easy to read.
I am embarrassed by the number of times I've run across my old writing and seen a stretched analogy, or a piece obviously engineered so I could tell a funny story, or endless examples to make me sound soooooo smart. If I'd just said what I wanted to say without the need to also be completely awesome at all times, I would have a body of work five times what it is now.
This is always the most difficult tip for me to follow, but when I do, the results speak for themselves.
9. Make your conclusion a call to action
Remember when I said the intro was the hardest part to write? The conclusion is the second hardest to write. Conclusions are awkward and gangly and inelegant things, and few people do them well. I do not consider myself to be one of the few. I suck, actually.
If you want to take a good 15-30 minutes off your writing time, here's a little hack. Some time during the process of the rest of the piece – between some of your section timeboxes, for example – plan out a simple conclusion that's actually just a call to action.
Decide in advance, say, that you're going to link to two specific blog posts. You're going to say something like, “Want more on using blog posts for content marketing? Check out 4 Ways To Write Blog Posts Without Giving Away The Farm and What The Hell Do I Do With My Blog Categories?” Or even just “What to read next: 6 Easy Steps To Content Marketing Without A Blog“.
You could make your call to action sending people to your other content, to your store, to a specific product, to your comments, to email you, to share this on social media – the sky really is the limit here. But if you decide in advance what you're going to suggest they do, you can know that going in to writing your last few sections, and it will be naturally elegant.
Plus, you don't have to hamfist a conclusion that's just going to be awkward for everyone concerned.
And speaking of awkward conclusions…
See how fast that was? Isn’t your life better now? Of course it is. Now, wanna go buy something from the store? The store is like the blog post, only better.