When I first started freelancing, I decided I’d aim for 500 words a day. Sticking to that would mean producing seven articles a week–which sounded pretty good to me.
As I became more successful and freelancing evolved from a side gig to a full-time job, I realized I needed to dramatically up my output. My new goal? 1,000 words per day. At that rate, it would take me approximately 84.8 days to write Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets.
After a couple months, I realized I couldn’t maintain this rate and keep accepting all the jobs I wanted to. My new target (and the one I’ve maintained) is 1,800 words a day.
I know, it’s a lot. To make myself as efficient as possible, I’ve developed a structured writing workflow. Here’s my process–from idea to completion.Learn how this workflow and tools can help you write 1,800 words every day and publish better content Click To Tweet
One of the biggest challenges to churning out so much content is, unsurprisingly, thinking of topics. The vast majority of my clients ask me to develop my own pitches, so I’m constantly searching for things to write about.
However, it’s almost impossible to develop a topic that’s never been discussed before. Instead, I try to put my own spin on a standard subject or identify an interesting trend.
If you don’t use Twitter as inspiration for your content, you’re missing out: It’s essentially a constant stream of ideas. Most of the accounts I follow belong to publications, blogs, companies, or thought leaders, which means my newsfeed is filled with links to interesting articles.
I hop on for a 10-minute session two or three times a day. Every time I see something with potential, I save it to Pocket with the tag “Article Inspiration.”
LinkedIn Pulse is also a fantastic place for finding potential ideas. If I just need general inspiration, I’ll take a look at the top stories in my newsfeed; when I’m developing an article idea for a specific vertical, I browse through the corresponding section.
For a really broad jumping-off point, I turn to Google Trends. This tool tells me what my audience will find engaging; for example, if I’m playing with the idea of writing a growth hacking article, seeing “Uber” pop up all over the Google Trends homepage suggests that analyzing Uber in my post would be a good idea.
I sometimes also use Google Trends to discover “adjacent” topics, using the “queries” section. Let’s say a piece on productivity tools does really well. If I plug that term into Google Trends, “Outlook productivity tools” comes up. Now I’ve got a new topic that I already know people are searching for.
Every once in a while, I’ll go on Quora. There are so many threads to explore–from the general (e.g. “software development”) to the hyper-specific (“Kanban”). I recommend hunting around for a really great question that hasn’t been answered.
Very, very rarely, I’ll venture into Reddit for inspiration. Most of the subreddits I’m interested in for topic-finding purposes are filled with links to external articles, so in a way, it acts like Twitter. The “hot,” “new,” and “rising” tags are helpful for figuring out what your readers might like learning about.
I don’t regularly use these, but I recommend them if you want to try something different.
- Conference agendas: Search “(your niche) + conference”, then find what each speaker or panelist will be discussing.
- Podcast topics: Same general idea. Check out the episode titles from a relevant podcast or read the show notes.
- HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator: This tool gives you 5 blog post ideas for three nouns of your choice (e.g. “social media,” “SEO,” “design.”)
I keep all of my ideas in Evernote. They’re stored in an “Article Ideas” notebook, so they don’t get confused with my other random thoughts.
Each idea gets its own card and as descriptive a title as possible. Rather than naming an idea, “Mentor,” I’d call it something along the lines of, “X Ways to Thank Your Mentor After They Do You a Huge Favor.”
Then, I tag it with the publication it’s intended for.
I also include any URLs to articles that inspired me or that I’d like to cite in my post. Since I have Evernote Premium, I can see “related content” that Evernote has pulled from the web. It’s super helpful for getting more context on a subject.
Evernote also has a great “Table of Contents” feature, which allows you to create a master card with links to every other card in that notebook. That’s why I’m so regimented about my titles; when I browse through the table of contents, I want a comprehensive list of all my ideas.
If you’d rather use a different app to record your thoughts, you’ve got plenty of choices.
The latest version of Apple’s Notes is really robust–you can add sketches to your notes, embed URLs and images to specific notes from within Safari, and sync everything to iCloud.
Thinkery, which is available for both iOS and Android, is also a solid option. It also shows you related web content, but unlike Evernote, you don’t have to upgrade for this feature. You’ll appreciate the as-you-type search and the ability to customize your tags. Plus, with Thinkery’s browser bookmarklet, you can add text snippets, images, and pages to your notes from any browser–not just Chrome.
My posts range from 300 words to 3,000 words. If I’m writing something on the shorter end, I’ll use the original Evernote card to sketch out my major points.
However, for longer articles, I need a more detailed outline. Workflowy is super helpful; it lets you create bullet-point lists that can be infinitely collapsed or expanded.
Apple Pages is good for a couple different scenarios. If the final product needs to be in Word or PDF form, you can easily convert it using Pages’ “Export to…” option.
I also love its Template feature. Many clients require a consistent post style, so I’ve created a Template for each. This saves me a ton of time in formatting, styling, and so on.
Google Docs has its own strengths. The smart lookup feature, which pulls up the URLs related to your highlighted text, means I don’t have to constantly be opening a new tab, copying the link, creating a hyperlink, and closing the tab.
It’s also ideal for times I know someone else will be editing my work. Along with the traditional revision history, there’s also a “see new changes” option which shows you what’s been modified since you last opened the file.
Classeur.io is probably my favorite of the three. Its pared-down interface reminds me of a traditional notebook, but the app packs a lot of power. You can post files to your blog, export them to a disk, clone them, or create shareable links.
I also love that it supports Markdown, a text-to-HTML “language” that makes styling text nearly effortless.
In general, I try to edit my work as little as possible. Since I write so much, hard-core editing just isn’t feasible.
However, there are two tools I rely on to make the editing process both speedy and productive. The first is Hemingway. You’ve probably heard of it: This app screens your writing for convoluted phrases, unnecessarily big words, adverbs, and anything else that makes it less readable.
The second is The Readability Test Tool. While there are lots of readability checkers out there, I prefer this one because it gives you scores from the five most-used indexes: the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, the Gunning Fog Score, the Coleman Liau Index, and the Automated Readability Index.
With its browser extension, you can check the readability of any page–try using this to compare the readability of your content with other writers or companies in your space.
Check My Links is fantastic for link-heavy articles. It’ll show you which links are valid and which ones are broken (either because you’ve entered them incorrectly or they’re no longer working).
And if you’re not a super confident writer, definitely check out Writefull. This app will compare your selected text with the language in millions of books and articles; if there’s a better or more accurate way to express what you’re saying, Writefull will tell you.
Whether you’re writing for yourself, your company, a publication, or a client, the right visuals are crucial. (There’s a lot of science on why, if you’re interested.)
But it’s not easy to find high-quality imagery. I rely on three websites: Negative Space, Pexels, and Unsplash. There are other curated collections of free stock photos, but they tend to be fairly limited in terms of style and theme.
If I’m writing an Internet-related piece (which is most of the time), I use screenshots.
Not only are screenshots easy to create, but they illustrate my points really effectively.
First, I’ll open a new tab for the app, website, or webpage I want to capture. Then, I’ll press Command + F to enter full-screen, and fn + Command + 3 to take the screenshot.
I’ve configured my Dropbox account so that every screenshot I take is automatically saved in a “Screenshots” folder. (Follow these instructions to set this feature up.)
The best part? When Dropbox saves the image, it gives you a desktop notification–click it, and you’ll be able to drag the image into your text, edit it, or name and categorize it.
After inserting my visuals and doing a couple final read-throughs, I send the piece to the client.
What about your writing workflow?
Does your writing workflow go anything like mine? And which tools do you use? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!