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Prolific Blogging: Five Methods I Swear By

I did an interesting calculation today. I worked out that I’d written 107 posts at my own blog, plus 36 posts at other blogs, for a total of 143 (mostly) long posts, produced across four months.

The maths proves that I’m a prolific blogger. Certainly not the most prolific, but I suspect that I write more than most. That doesn’t necessarily mean I spend a lot of time writing posts. In truth, I’ve always been surprised by the amount of time I spend vs. the number of posts I produce. It’s just not as much as you’d think.

I’ve realized that there are five strategies I use to write — what I aim to be, to varying levels of success — value-packed content, really fast. It’s not a skill, nor is it a talent. Writing killer content fast is something any blogger can do. The key is in changing the way you approach the writing process.

What’s so good about writing fast?

If you can write better posts in less time, you’ll be producing more content than you’ve ever been. Alternately, you can produce the same amount of content and have more time left over to do other things you enjoy.

Developing a painless writing habit can also increase your enjoyment of blogging. Creating content is less likely to resemble a chore if you can tackle the task and complete it quickly and with no fuss.

Here are the five strategies I’ve used to become a prolific blogger.

#1 — The scarecrow approach

When settling down to write a post, we usually know what we want to say. The tricky part is knowing how to say it. The scarecrow approach minimizes a lot of this trickiness.

It involves writing what you want to say first, in the form of short sentences or sub-headings encapsulating each of your main points. You add the detail after.

I used this method to write the post you’re reading right now. It started with just the sub-headings. I then fleshed them out by adding an explanation beneath each one.

This method is also ideal for list posts. Write your list with the key points in bold, then flesh out each point in the following paragraph.

The strategy works because you’re breaking down your post into bite-sized chunks. Rather than tackling the post as a whole, you’re concentrating on one point at a time. This method helps me tackle long posts quickly and efficiently.

#2 — Little words, big meaning

Short posts are quick to write, but not necessarily any less profound or valuable than long posts. You can say a lot with just a few words.

If you’ve got an idea for a long blog post, challenge yourself to convey the same information in 200 words or less. You’ll be forced to strip down the post to its essence. You might discover that you simply don’t need to add any more words afterwards — that anything else would be filler.

Profound ideas often come in the smallest of containers. The best part: you can write and publish a short post in a matter of minutes.


Photo by la_cola_de_mi_perro.

#3 — Take your foot off the brake

One common cause of slow and painful writing is actually slow and painful editing. If you hesitate after each sentence you’ve written, finger trembling above the backspace key, you won’t enjoy writing and you won’t produce good work.

Set yourself this challenge: don’t hit delete a single time until you’ve finished the first draft of your post. Yes, some of your sentences will not make sense. Yes, the post will include some horrific spelling mistakes. That’s OK. Now that you’ve written it, you can edit to your heart’s content. What’s important is that you don’t let the two mix.

Once you learn to accept mistakes and imperfections in the first draft, you’ll begin to write more freely — and quickly.

#4 — Skip the formalities

In my experience, starting is the hardest part of writing a blog post. Many of us are so unsure about what to write that we choose anything over nothing — the number one cause of a rambling introduction that’s all-too-easy to ignore.

My solution is to skip it. I started writing this post at ‘The scarecrow approach’. With each sub-heading, there’s no mystery about what I have to write next. I have to explain what I mean. When there’s no uncertainty, you can get started straight away.

Once you’ve written the body of the post, you’ve got plenty of fodder for your introduction. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Explain what you’re going to say and why it matters. Your introduction will always be better if you know exactly what’s to follow.

#5 — Change the format

There’s a certain anxiety that comes with composing posts inside your blog software. The publish button is never far out of your line of sight. It can be hard to resist the temptation to get the post over and done with by publishing it before it’s been polished. Alternately, it can make us feel pressured to write something publishable straight away.

Composing your posts offline — in a Word processor, text file, a laptop or with pen and paper — can help sever the direct link between writing and publishing. It can help you concentrate on the act of writing alone, without worrying about the post’s public debut. Take away some of the worry and your writing process will be less stressful. This generally makes it faster and more fluid, too.

A bonus tip: practice writing posts in advance. If you intend to publish a post in two weeks rather than two minutes, you’ll take a much more relaxed approach to the first draft, knowing that you have plenty of time to revise it. When you check in on the post in a week or so, you might find it doesn’t need as much work as you thought!

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. Subscribe to her feed for more useful blogging advice.

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Comments

  1. jsanderz says:

    Great advice Skellie,
    I agree, the hardest part of writing an article is getting started.
    I am more relaxed at writing if I have more time, than trying to rush the article as it has to go out in an hour.
    After I have write my article I save it for later to go back and reread, you can guarantee that you will edit what you have wrote.
    Regards.

  2. Coen Jacobs says:

    Really a great post, I will start experimenting with some of these tips in the coming weeks.

    Thanks Skellie!

  3. lulugal11 says:

    I follow some of those tips already but I did not realize that they were actually helpful until I read this posting. Sometimes I just write a post in a few minutes and save it. Then I go back and spell check and post it.

    I know of one other blogger who thinks that is a crazy idea because most of my posts have not been as long as others. I think that I am still okay with having average length posts because that is my style…and then every so often I will throw in a long one that I have taken more time to write.

    Thanks Skellie!!

  4. Hi Skellie,

    It is interesting that all of as face the same old problems. All the things you’ve described in your post are in front of me while I am writing my posts. Here is my blogging methodology, I hope it will be useful for the readers of Problogger.net:

    Step 1: Research the idea
    Usually the idea comes to my mind in seconds and unexpected (or after a short or long research). :-)

    Step 2: Writing
    I am using Dreamweaver and writing my blog posts in HTML files, with the WYSIWYG editor.

    Also I get to iStockPhoto and choose appropriate picture to buy for illustration of the post topic.

    It takes me about 20-30 minutes to finish a post.

    The substeps here are:

    – Creating a catchy title.
    – Choosing and buying a picture.
    – Jotting down the structure – headings.
    – Writing the text.
    – Editing

    Step 3: Publishing
    This is the moment when I copy/paste my text to WordPress and hit the Publish button. :)

    Step 4: Check online
    I get to the post from visitor’s point of view and read it carefully for final review.


    Digg, Sphinn, Stumbleupon

    I will be glad to read your opinion about this methodology. Your notes and suggestions?

    Regards and good luck,
    William

  5. Continued:
    ————–

    I am sorry for previous comment’s error at the end.

    Step 5 is:


    Digg, Sphinn, Stumbleupon

  6. I remember chatting with a fellow science writer who was a staffer on a local paper as opposed to a freelance like myself and he couldn’t believe that I was writing half a dozen original stories a week, when he was struggling to produce one. So, blogging aside, I guess I’m quite prolific too. But, it did make me wonder what on earth he was getting paid for he if only produced around a 1000 words a week. I’m sure he quickly moved up through the ranks into middle management.

    db

  7. Skellie says:

    @ jsanderz: I agree — being able to re-read and edit an article at least a day after you’ve written it is a really illuminating experience. You’ll find twice as many errors as you did the first time!

    @ Coen: Cheers!

    @ William: Thanks for those social media votes! I have no doubt Darren will appreciate it :-).

    @ David: When it comes to freelancing, being able to write quality content fast will essentially determine your income. The skill can be even more essential in that area. You and I have both freelanced, so we’ve experienced that first hand.

  8. I did an interesting calculation today. I worked out that I’d written 107 posts at my own blog, plus 36 posts at other blogs, for a total of 143 (mostly) long posts, produced across four months. The maths proves that I’m a prolific blogger. Certainly not the most prolific, but I suspect that I write more than most.

    I suppose it would depend on how long is “long” and what your definition of prolific is. 1.1 posts per day – in my opinion – isn’t even close.

    The rest is still food for thought, though.

  9. I have to agree that writing your posts in Word makes it easy to just write! I’ve only recently started doing this for some of my posts.

    As for where I can improve, I think headlines are what I need to get used to. And I can certainly utilize these points to become a better blogger.

  10. Skellie says:

    @ Paul: Posts vary from about 700 – 1,500 words. I started off writing a little less but these days write 1,000 to 2,000 words most days. If you don’t consider that prolific, I’m impressed! I’d love to hear your tips on the subject.

  11. Excellent post!

    I try to write in my blog every day, so I especially appreciated the section on writing small posts. I just don’t have time – or desire – to write a full length article every day.

    Jonathan Bostrom

  12. Bradly says:

    I rarely compose a post from my WordPress write page. I use Windows Live Writer. I think it may be the best piece of software Microsoft has ever produced well that and solitaire.

    It lets you easily add and format pictures as well as set scheduled posting times but most importantly (and how it relates to this post) it lets you save drafts and manage them easily.

    I write off-line then when I do get on-line I create the links I want to use and publish.

  13. The hardest part of starting to blog is like you said, getting that idea from your head and into the keyboard. You have provided great tips.

    Steve

  14. My 3 helpful ideas:

    1) become a better typer. typing 60 words a minute makes writing easier than typing 30 wpm.
    2) I use jott.com to make bullet points or ideas from my cell phone while driving, etc.
    3) MS Word 07 is awesome and let’s me publish directly to wordpress, formatting, images and all.

    Cheers.

  15. VitaminCM says:

    I’m definitely a fan of the Scarecrow approach.
    I do a ton of technical writing at my day job and I have used this approach for many years. I’m trying to adapt it to my blog writing to get similar results.
    Good tips.

  16. Chris Dohman says:

    Sound like great guidelines to go by. I’ll be putting these to use as soon as my current project launches. Bradley makes a good point with adding links after writing. The same goes for finding quotes from people and other sites. These would fall into the “Take your foot off the breaks” point. Thanks Skellie!

  17. Mark Dykeman says:

    @Skellie: I’d say that I use methods 1, 3 and 4 fairly regularly, although I tend to use 1. My worry about 2 is that it might not produce a substantial or meaty post. I’m dabbling with 5 a bit.

  18. Mark says:

    I must say that I am jealous of the gifted writers out there who are talented enough to just draft a post and hit the publish button.

    Writing for me seems to take an endless amount of time even though I have plenty to say…

    Another top-notch post Skellie! Maybe you can start Skellie’s writing lab :)

  19. I’ve never thought of writing process, but always wondered why writing post for my personal blog (even when on a “professional” topic) was easier than for the one I write at work. It’s all down to the process I use. I mentally make a list of my arguments before getting home, effectively “drafting” it mentally even before I start.

    Putting it into defined points as you did makes it that much more valuable. In fact, I’m off to print this!

  20. I frequently use the scarecrow approach, but I never knew what to call it until now, so thanks for that! :)

    I also batch my blog writing tasks, which makes for a much more efficient and productive writing session.

    I used to write posts in Google Docs and then put them on the blog, but lately I’ve been writing everything directly in WordPress. The result is I have a drafts list that takes up the most space it can at the top of the writing screen. Your ideas about changing the format reminded me of the advantages of that. Thanks!

  21. DefogMyBlog says:

    Getting some writing done in advance is something I should do because after a piece has bee left for a few days there are changes that need to be done that seem to hop of the page even it it seemed perfect on the day it was composed.

  22. DefogMyBlog says:

    Oh golly there is a certain irony in my last comment. Off course it should have said “hop off the page”.

  23. @ Paul: Posts vary from about 700 – 1,500 words. I started off writing a little less but these days write 1,000 to 2,000 words most days. If you don’t consider that prolific, I’m impressed! I’d love to hear your tips on the subject.

    That’s a good amount of content, which is about where I expected it to be, I just don’t consider it to be prolific is all. I’d call it somewhere in the middle with prolific being up in the 3000-4500 range on a daily basis. I’ve met people that can produce up in that range and it’s quite impressive, though not terribly important since quality wins out over quantity in everything except television.

    It is, however, not even the very top which is a very reserved space.

    As for tips? I’m not one to ask, I write against every mold I’ve ever encountered. I don’t use outlines, treatments, or notes of any kind when I write scripts. I don’t break things down by topic or theme for essays and editorials, and my only goals and methods for blogging is get it out as fast as possible so the tendency to think doesn’t get in the way.

    The key to production for any kind of writing is finding what makes you comfortable, not what makes you fast – as one typically follows the other. By its very nature, that’s not something you can summarize and teach because everybody has a different way of getting into their comfort zone.

    I’m not raining on your methods by any means – they obviously work for you and they’ll undoubtedly work for many others since my own observation here isn’t exclusionary. People should try anything and everything they can find, just as long as they realize there’s a point after which you’ve got to stop reading about doing something, and just do it.

    Here’s an example of what I mean: In #3 you talk about “taking your foot off the brake” to increase productivity, which is a good thing, but it doesn’t solve the underlying problem people have, which is self-confidence. “Getting to the bottom is the most important thing” isn’t going to alleviate their fear that what they’ve written sucks; it’s just shifting that apprehension a half-hour or an hour into the future.

    What I’d suggest is for people to think about the cause of that apprehension a little bit, because understanding it can make it go away. People tend to think about how they’ve written before and how they’ve seen something so obvious and horrifying that they could have so completely fixed it, had they spent another ten seconds thinking about it first.

    That apprehension makes them gun shy, and they tend to try to make every sentence perfect as a result.

    Sturgeon’s Law is an informal name for the adage “90% of everything is crap”. Applied here, people think back to that one paragraph that should have stayed buried and obsess over it with every new paragraph they write, rather than appreciating that the remaining 90% of what they are writing right now is going to turn out just fine.

    Understanding things like that will make you more comfortable by knowing that: (a) only one tiny block of this entire text will suck (generally), and that; (b) you can’t do a darn thing about it while you’re writing it.

    Perhaps for some, this is just equivalent to semantics, but I disagree. Using tricks to help you keep moving forward is a good place to start, but not as good as simply finding what puts you at ease. As a bit of physical psychology, talent and success tend to follow naturally from people who are comfortable with what they are doing.

    Just my two cents.

  24. I like writing… and actually I write really fast, my problem is this: my native language is Spanish… so when I need to write in English, sometimes it is really painful… Some days I take four or more hours to finish a post because I need to read and fix my english all the time.. :-)

  25. This article was insightful and helpful. I really enjoyed the part about beginning writing without an intro, because whenever I start writing for my fashion blog I always start with the introduction and at times get stuck on it. I am unsure how to begin it when the body is actually the most important part and what I should be worrying about. The scarecrow apporach is an intriguing idea and will make it easier to skip the intro.
    Today on my blog I just started to post every other day. I feel your bonus tip was a smart, becasue it really takes the stress off. You can take longer to improve each post instead of just following a time constraint.

  26. Vagelis says:

    I have to say, I never ever heard something that I needed so much.

    I did try these ones out before commenting, cause they seemed too simple to make a difference. It is amazing how much difference they did !

    Thumbs up for Skellie

  27. Skellie says:

    Thanks for the feedback and additional tips everyone. You’re really adding a wealth of knowledge to the original post. It’s enjoyable to watch.

  28. These are some great tips. Thanks for posting this. I think this is where I often struggle. I have a movie review blog and I try to watch a lot of movies and do about 3 or 4 reviews a week. I often find myself zipping through a review just so I can get it posted and it ends up being less polished than if I took it easier. This is definitely something I am going to be concentrating from now on.

  29. kristarella says:

    Good tips Skellie!

    I especially like #1 and #4.

    I wanted to move to an offline editor for my posts, but didn’t find something suitable. MarsEdit was the closest, but still not quite there; sometimes I type my posts in a text editor. People need to be careful using a word processor to write posts – they can introduce weird characters when it’s copied into the blog’s editor.

  30. Mike King says:

    Great post ideas. I’ve been consistent with keeping a lot of draft posts ready with titles (and sometimes just 2 or 3 points) in the post as a starting place. I sometimes have tens of these ready in my writing drafts or queue so that if I don’t have something new to write, I’ll just finish those posts for the day.

    One thing I’m surprised is not on the list (maybe it is in comments already) is also keeping a queue of posts ready to go out so you are not writing content and publishing the same day. Anything I post is generally at least a week old from publishing it with a scheduled post so I have plenty of time to reread and think about it before it actually goes live. This works great for a series of posts as well since you can link between and get some consistency between the posts before it goes public.

  31. Andy says:

    I find it easy to write prolifically about topics that people never seem to fully grasp such as Internet Marketing and Weight Loss. A bit like writing about the art of blogging :-)

    No matter how many articles explain the details, there is always room for more.

  32. Hi Darren,

    These are all great suggestions, but your point #5 (Change the format) resonated the most with me.

    I think you are absolutely right about using a Word doc as a storage space for your content. Doing that also addresses your four other points.

    I have Word docs set up until May 2008 right now. Every time I see or hear of a piece that I’d like to expand upon, I go inside one of the coming months and put in a head line and a couple of lines of text (whatever comes to mind as an initial draft).

    By doing that, I never run out of content so I don’t really suffer from writers block and it also means that I can revise my copy when my heard is clear and not just before posting.

    The other reason I do this is because I employ the services of an editor and she reviews all my Word docs before I start cutting them into posts that I’ll publish.

    I quite like working with Word docs…I’m using the same approach magazines do.

    Now, if there is a VERY timely topic, then I will create a quite post (still in Word) and then post it!

    Also, when you say to write shorter posts… another solution is to write the long post and then cut it into chucks of 300-400 words…that way you automatically double your content.

    I’ve had some posts that were so long and difficult to explain that I ended up cutting the post into 4 digestible pieces…so that was extra content for me and an easier read for my visitors/readers.

    Thanks Darren.

    Gisele
    http://www.mybeautymatch.com

  33. I’ve just begun this… i’ll post little posts throughout the week, all the while i will be composing one great post. I wont post it until it is ready.

    It is so tempting when writing in the editior to just hit publish.
    but i found that my long articles are better when i wait.

  34. Czecho says:

    Thanks for the tips, I always find your posts helpful.

  35. Skellie I knew there was some secret behind how much you’re able to write. I guess there are actually 5 secrets.

    I’ve been struggling lately to have written as much as I’d like to write. I’ve been wanting to do more guest posting, but it’s been difficult enough to keep up with my own blog.

    A couple of your methods hit home with me, especially the scarecrow method. It’s something I have used in the past, but had forgotten how helpful it can be to get a post written quickly. I’ll have to get back to it.

  36. Loretta says:

    These tips are so true. I have taken numerous writing classes, including English (with honors, made the Dean’s List), and these points are basically what is stressed in any writing class. whether for term papers, reviews, proposals, stories and articles. Start with the basics. This is vital for any organization as well.
    thanks

  37. Ruchir says:

    My average writing time for posts is between 30 mins to 3 hrs max…

  38. bmunch says:

    Hi Skellie, your guest posts on Problogger are some of the best I have read from Problogger in recent times. Keep it up.

  39. Porscher says:

    Thanks, this information it was very useful to me.

  40. shae says:

    Your great! This “no holes barred”-123 approach is just what we need. I am a “newbie” I want to do this-but HOW-
    I look at your content the light comes on – the scarcrow
    approach is a viable book— consider…!?! Please send
    more ideas…

  41. I found this post quite late, but better than never. I’ve found I’ve done only the slightest bit of integrating thinking like this into my blog writing, but having it all written out here and well explained is going to help me a lot with my work.

    One this I like about this post is how each point is tied in with the over all goal of making it easier for all of us to blog. Thanks.