I used to write 3,000-8,000 words per day, sometimes up to 2400+ words per hour. But since shifting from content creation to strategy, my writing speed has decreased dramatically. Here’s what I’m doing as part of my Content Hurricane 2022 strategy to get my daily wordcount back up.
The Old Tricks I’m Re-learning to Write Faster
When I first started writing online, I was paid per word. My rates were often hilariously low because I didn’t know better. (Think $0.02-$0.035/word.) The goal for my clients was clearly quantity, not quality.
Being paid per word meant that I got paid the same whether an article took 20 minutes or 5 hours. Revisions added significant time and didn’t increase my pay. So I wanted to write drafts fast, but that were still good enough they didn’t require revisions.
Through trial and error, I discovered the following tricks worked well for me:
Starting with Outlines
As an undergrad, I worked as a writing tutor and reviewed dozens of student papers daily. Within seconds of starting a paper, I could tell who had written from an outline and who had not. This lesson stuck with me (in fact, if I were to ever get a tattoo, it would say “Get an outline”.) Writing an outline removes that awkward, time-consuming “What do I write now?” paralysis.
A good outline doesn’t need to be complicated. Using a glorified 5-paragraph essay format isn’t bad – there’s a reason it’s so common. Taking just two minutes to write a brief bullet-point outline will save you lots of time as you write. Removing the anxiety of “What’s coming next?” helps to ensure you’re writing transitions, future pacing your audience, logically presenting your points, and using enough supporting data.
This reminds me of what Hemingway said to Arnold Samuelson (published in With Hemingway as a collection of letters, via The Marginalian). It’s a quote I think about often:
The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time… Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work.
The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.
Grind culture encourages us to Always Be Hustling™, but that doesn’t work for creative labor. (This is why so many marketing agencies produce forgettable, bland work – they don’t budget their creative team enough time to just soak in ideas and let the subconscious mind do its thing.) Removing the mental burden of “What happens now?” frees our minds to subsconsciously work on other ideas (like remembering a quote you read years ago but that’s a good fit for right now).
Parkinson’s Law is an old adage you’ve probably experienced during your corporate career. It’s that “work expands so as to fill the time avaialble for its completion.” Setting a timer for yourself mentally pushes you to work faster. Your brain quickly adapts, and soon you’re:
- Thinking faster
- Typing faster
- Producing shippable work faster
Simply practicing this turns your weak first drafts into pretty-much-good-enough drafts… fast.
You also get a baseline where you can measure and improve performance over time. “During my last 30 minute block, I typed 1000 words. I’m going to shoot for 1200 for this one.”
It’s basically the pomodoro method. And yes, this is something Principal Skinner would do:
With timers, I was able to boost my hourly wordcount from 800 words/hr to 2400+ words/hour. That meant my hourly earnings went from $8 (minimum wage) to as much as $72. Not bad!
This isn’t a pace you can sustain all day, every day – you’ll maybe get 8-10 good hours like this every week, and it’s more realistic to do this if you’re not already mentally exhausted from parenting. However, the principle used here is solid.
Using Saved Sources
I am one of the internet Olds and have been online since 1993. So there’s a lot stored up in my brain from over the years. I’ve noticed that when I can’t immediately find a source, this happens:
- I Google what I think I’m looking for, and if I can’t find it, I try other Google searches
- Then I search Reddit
- Realizing the site I originally found the content on might be defunct, I search the Internet Archive
- And then I eventually get distracted
- I remember I’m supposed to be working and have to task switch back into writing mode
Services like Evernote and Pocket let you download a copy of the articles you save. This is a lifesaver when you’re working quickly. No need to dig through the Wayback Machine in order to find a usable source – you’ve got it saved in your Pocket. This lets me work faster and stay on task.
Writing Where I Hang Out
Sitting down to write a formal “blog” for my site feels like work. But responding to that Reddit post in /r/careeradvice? That feels like fun. So I’m writing meaty responses to topics provided by real people.
This has a few bonus benefits:
- Less pressure to come up with ideas people actually want to read
- Not needing to change my daily habits to find writing opportunities
- Getting immediate feedback in the form of engagement to measure how “good” my writing is
Focusing on Quantity, Not Creating the Perfect Article
TBH seeing Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Technique or Grow & Convert’s incredible content made me feel too anxious to put my own work out there. That’s because their methods rely on creating really, really good content, then promoting the heck out of it. (The 80/20 content rule relies on having good content to promote in the first place.)
But without practice, you’ll never even approach the skill needed to create the “Ultimate Guide to Brain-Busting Content” or whatever. It’s like reading about bowling and then evaluating your skills by whether or not you can bowl a perfect game.
Focusing on the quantity of writing rather than creating that one-perfect-article feels liberating. It removes the paralyzing pressure to make something great before promoting yourself. It also helps me stay focused on the objective of this strategy: to get hundreds of thousands of people viewing my content every single month.
Treating My Public Writing like a Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) Test
I’m all about that data… except in my writing, which I treat with the preciousness of Michael Cera listening to early Sufjan Stevens albums. Dumb.
I’m writing content, not the next great American novel. My goal is to provide dopamine hits by teaching my readers something cool. (Good content educates and/or entertains.) Data lets me know what’s working and what isn’t. So I’ll be focusing on platforms that allow me to get that feedback – Reddit, Quora, LinkedIn, etc.
I’m Using These Tricks to Write a Hurricane of Published Content
Every week, I’m going to have a pile of answers that my VA can:
- Comb through
- Copy/paste into new posts
- Turn into Instagram stories/carousels
- Or otherwise repurpose
With a little bit of editing, I can quickly turn thousands of words into my own content, every single week. It’s automating my content library building with very little additional effort.
I’m calling this the Content Hurricane 2022 strategy. The goal? To drive thousands of new visitors to Common People every month through DRENCHING the places I hang out online with my ideas/content. And with this approach, I’m able to basically spend the same amount of time per day online but end up with a productive body of site content.
So far this week, I’ve written 4,587 words (and counting). That’s a massive increase of basically zero for the months before. But it’s not just about the wordcount – it’s also about getting in the habit of writing.
So here’s to a better 2022 through spending more time writing – and spending just a little bit of time to make sure that writing counts.