Have you ever had a brilliant idea for a blog post that just seemed to fall apart when you tried to write it? It’s that uncomfortable moment when what started out as the World’s Greatest Blog Post turns into a slushy mush as you fight to keep your original idea and enthusiasm, while getting bogged down with details of the post.
Suddenly, you’ve got a 940-word epic fail mocking you from the screen.
Or it’s the other way around.
Your ninety minute struggle with the English language has yielded a grand total of four words, two of which you’re sure you won’t keep and a third one that’s on thin ice. Before you know it, cleaning out the freezer seems like a preferable option and the day’s productivity graph looks like an Olympic ski jump.
It doesn’t need to be like this every time. Here’s a writing method that helps me avoid these two nightmare scenarios – and as a bonus speeds up my writing a HUGE amount.
The secret is to make an outline before you hit the keyboard. A clear outline gives you a structure to follow when writing and takes the pain and confusion away. You’ll know what to write and where it goes in the article.
Step 1. Think about your post the day before
I know this isn’t always possible because of deadlines – self-imposed or otherwise – but if it is, noodling the key concepts around in your head and sleeping on it will allow your amazing subconscious (and everyone’s subconscious is amazing) to sift through the notes in your head. That means you’ll be thinking clearer and faster when you come to write.
If you’ve ever slept on a seemingly impossible problem only to have the solution pop into your head the next day, you’ve already experienced this technique in action.
Even if you can’t give yourself a day’s lead, mulling ideas over an hour or two before writing will give you an advantage.
The next steps will work best if you use – OMG – a piece of paper. Not only will it be easier to refer to while you’re writing (no more flipping between windows and apps), but when typing notes directly into WordPress or Word there’s an inevitable tendency to actually start writing the post, which is what we’re trying to avoid at this point.
Step 2. Write your headline
Given that studies show even a great headline only gets around a 20% click-through rate, it’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of your headline.
It’s the most important part of your post. It’s the first thing users will see on Twitter, Facebook and in your newsletter emails, so it’s got to make people want to click through to read more.
I’ve also found writing the headline first keeps me focused on the aim of the post. In this case, the subject is helping people to write a blog post quickly – so ideas that might occur to me about classic grammar mistakes to avoid, or how to promote a blog post, are off-topic and need to go into another post.
Step 3. Write the subheadings
If you’re writing a step-by-step tutorial or How To article, then subheadings will naturally flow from the process you’re describing. Planning them before writing will help clarify how the tutorial should look and makes sure you don’t leave out a vital step.
Even something that’s more of an opinion piece or essay will benefit from good subheads. They’ll help guide you through the points you need to cover.
Step 4. Define the main points of each subsection with bullet point notes
With this step, you’re adding a few more definite pencil marks to your canvas so you’re sure everything is in the right place before painting the final picture.
Each subheading and bullet points should cover just one aspect of the story you’re telling. When you feel you’re moving on to another sub-theme it’s time for a new heading.
Step 5. Write the full post
Now you just join up and expand the half-written sentences and bullet points you already have. Because you worked on an outline you’ll write with confidence knowing nothing will be missing and the blog post will have a logical flow.
What if I’m struggling with my sub-headings?
If you’re really stuck, here’s an outline that makes it easy to come up with a 600-word post on just about anything.
The trick is to break it down into easy pieces.
1. Intro (100 words)
Startling facts / Why is the topic important ?
2. Highlight Problems (100 words)
Where do most people fail? What are the common mistakes?
3. Great Example (100 words)
Highlight a person or company that bucks the trend / is highly successful at overcoming the problem.
4. Other Examples (200 words)
List two or three other companies / people who are doing well.
5. Industry Standards (100 words)
Wrap up with a mention of books, apps or services that are commonly used by those in the know.
This approach might seem a bit formulaic – and it is, so don’t write everything in this format – but it’s a great way to kick-start your creativity. You can also invent your own structures for reviews, case studies or other types of content you often need to write.
Let’s say you need to write a 600-word post on successful Twitter marketing. Here’s how you could do that using the technique above.
Start off with a couple of jaw-dropping facts about Twitter. For example, there are 175 million tweets a day and 1 million new accounts created every day (source).
#2 Highlight Problems
Here you could point out that those figures mean there’s a lot of noise on Twitter, making it difficult to get marketing messages heard.
#3 Great Example
Now add a paragraph about a successful viral campaign that used Twitter, which proves that it can be done and shows how to do it. Readers always love real life examples and practical steps.
#4 Other Examples
Build on the theme with a couple of briefer examples or a juicy quote or two from a marketer who’s been successful on Twitter.
#5 Industry Standards
Now you can wrap up the post with more practical help. This would be a good place to mention web apps like Social Oomph and Hoot Suite that let you orchestrate and track content marketing campaigns on Twitter.
Spell-check, proofread and you’re done.
You don’t need to stick to the order as you write. Stuck on the intro? Skip it and work on one of the subheads. Come back to the intro later.
Think of it like doing a jigsaw – by putting the pieces in the right place as you can and the whole thing will start coming together before your eyes.
Using This Technique For Guest Blogging
I’ve found writing guest posts for other sites and blogs related to my market is a really effective way of increasingly traffic to this site. It’s not so much for the immediate spike in visitors that comes from guest posting on a popular blog, though that’s very welcome, it’s the long term accumulative effect of having inbound links on a number of authority sites.
The trick is to write a lot, quickly, while maintaining the quality. Not only does that make the traffic increase happen sooner but it creates the impression that you’re sufficiently awesome to be featured on top blogs everywhere.
The complete master of this is Danny Iny, who launched an entire online marketing company using a practical process that he’s now released as a course called Write Like Freddy (as in Freddy Krueger, because he’s everywhere). The course was sold out when first offered (within 4 hours!) but it’s back online now.