About a year ago, Neil Patel posted an article with a big title, “How I write eight blog posts a week while running two companies.” Wow. Yeah, that seems like a lot to do.
He’s not the only overachiever though. Not to be outdone, Buffer’s Kevan Lee wrote a story earlier this year that boldly stated, “We publish four posts per week on the Buffer blog, each post at least 1,500 words (and typically over 2,000). I write three of these posts.”
I only recently started blogging and can’t help but wonder: how in the world do they do it? Posts from Patel and Lee are consistently good; they are well researched, data-oriented, personal, and they make a point. And apparently, they don’t take two days to finish.
Patel talks about streamlining the writing process, completing preparatory steps as quickly as possible, and saving most of his time for writing. Using the method below he’s able to finish an under 1500-word post in as quickly as 90 minutes:
- Generate a List of Potential Topics (10 minutes)
- Create an Outline (20 minutes)
- Write (60 minutes)
- Proofread, add a picture, and schedule (Hire someone else to do this)
These steps are pretty basic. Totally doable. Of course, Patel and Lee are experts, and expertise can’t be undervalued – if you know the ins and outs of an industry, you’ll have more clearly defined ideas that you can deliver quickly.
I’m pretty sure, like most other skills, this is one that can be learned, so while I can’t claim to write with the prolific tenacity of Patel or Lee, I can still learn from them. After all, this “blogging as a science” process can be extremely useful for us mere humans as well, and can help cut down blogging time while producing polished results. What I primarily took away from their posts on writing is the following:
Find a blogging method that works for you. Then, continually improve it.
Below are a few key insights to help you find your rhythm and master your blogging style.
Step #1: Choose the Right Idea
- Write what you know: If you don’t have time to invest in research, consider writing a piece based on your opinion or experience.
- Quick Tip: Start idea notebooks for central themes you come up with, and add links as you come across them.
- Challenge your competition: Check out what your influencers and competitors have been posting until you find something that draws your interest. Then, write a better version.
- Quick Tip: Use Buzzsumo, Topsy or a similar tool to find out which competing posts and influencer posts are performing well. Focus on improving upon these.
- Write for an audience: Can’t think of an idea? Answer a question that you’ve been having or that someone in your industry has asked on a public forum (like Reddit or Quora).
- Quick Tip: Gather these questions ahead of time as finding the right ones to answer can be as time consuming as it is rewarding.
COMPANY SECRET: At Oz, we’re big advocates of the stacking up our idea pipeline. We use our own Oz platform to research, generate, and start developing ideas, then send them from the Oz dashboard into Trello, where we can see the seed of a story sprout and blossom as it moves through the content development workflow.
Step #2: Make an Outline
- Write a thesis statement or define a central theme: Your goal is to give direction and purpose to yourself and your reader. If it’s a thesis, the statement will articulate the argument; a central theme will define what you will focus on regarding your subject, and from what angle you will approach it.
- Quick Tip: Think of your thesis as an equation. What you plan to argue + How you plan to argue it = Thesis Statement
- Write your conclusion early in the process: According to Patel, a good conclusion reiterates what your readers have learned in the post.
- Quick Tip: Not only will you have a finished conclusion to use in your blog post, but you will have given yourself a target to write towards.
- Bullet the body: A few bullets making your case should do.
- Quick Tip: I like to quickly paste links to relevant articles.
COMPANY SECRET: We like to play with Oz’s idea generation software as we’re trying to nail down a specific thesis or theme. Because our algorithm analyzes sources for us (and then groups together distantly related materials), it’s easier to find patterns and similarities within different texts and to develop unique angles.
Step #3: Research
- Start before you start: Industry pro and Editor of The Daily Egg, Kathryn Aragon told us over the phone last month, if you’re a content writer, your “antenna” has to always be up, alert for interesting topics and ideas. Even when you’re watching a movie or talking to a friend, you should be thinking about how your core topic relates.
- Quick Tip: Are you the boss? Do you have a team? Use junior members of your team, (perhaps those nifty college interns you’re so lucky to have this summer) to do your research. Give them solid direction into what you’re looking for have them present you with digestible information that’ll help you hone your angle.
- Conduct focused research: Beware the research black hole. Go hunting for information that will help build your body paragraphs.
- Quick Tip: These are often statistics, quotes, images, video, infographics, case studies, stories, expert opinions.
- Avoid the research black hole: Research has a way of sucking people in, especially if you’re writing about a topic you don’t know much about. Be aware of this and structure your time deliberately.
- Quick Tip: Set a timer, I love Focus Time. Write what you can until time’s up. You can always go back for more specifics later.
COMPANY SECRET: Because Oz’s centralized research dashboard includes only materials from your customized source list, research seems to be more focused, and takes less time.
- Write first, edit later: draft your story quickly and don’t stop for any additional research or editing.
- Quick Tip: Make yourself comfortable and then outrun your inner critic by getting the whole story out before you feel the need to edit it.
- Minimize distractions: Whether it’s by entering the zone with noise canceling headphones, or telling yourself, repeatedly “I don’t get distracted.”
COMPANY SECRET: We like to know what we’re getting into here at Oz. Before we assign any stories to writers, we attempt to define the type of project and set writing goals. We break down most of our stories into three specific types:
- Mini Story (under 700 words): introduces breaking news, new statistics, or a cool visual component like an infographic or podcast
- Midsized Story (700–1,200 words): typically a combination of source data and analysis
- Full-Length Story (1,000+ words): has a more complicated story to tell and uses multiple primary sources to do so
* Full disclosure, sometimes we decide to turn a mini story into a full-length story in the middle of writing. It happens. Just make sure that editorial decisions serve the piece of writing.
Step #5: Make your Post Publishing-Ready
- Quick Tip: Create a style guide. This must-have internal document helps everyone on your team meet quality standards and easily make editorial decisions. There are plenty of great how-to articles out there, but we especially love the general guidelines that MailChimp has put together.
- Get a copy editor
- Quick Tip: If it is at all possible, hire someone else to edit. Your time is valuable and you’re probably too close to your writing to be appropriately critical anyway. (If you don’t have someone on your team to edit, you can quickly farm an editing job inexpensively through UpWork).
- Add visuals: Dip into your stock photos and select 1-3 you’d like to use for your story (If you don’t have a budget for stock photos, check out these 39 sites that have stock photos you can use for free.)
COMPANY SECRET: Don’t over-edit. When you’re dealing with a team of perfectionists, it’s easy to get bogged down by constant revisions of a single blog post. You have to take initiative and realize that while you’re focusing valuable time and effort on fixing minute details, your next project is being neglected. Here is a good checklist for editing just the right amount.
Don’t forget! Whether you’re writing blog posts in one hour or six, the process with which you approach a writing project is very important. DON’T give up because you don’t write as effortlessly as one of the experts, DO find what works for you and work on bettering that process.
If you take anything away from this story, it should be this:
Think, plan, research, write, polish. Repeat.
After a while, you might even find that you write great content as easily as Neil Patel or Kevan Lee.