Is Content Marketing a Hamster Wheel You Can’t Escape?

Image of Hamster

Brace yourself. It kind of is.

Here’s the thing: the more information you share, the more frequently you post, the fresher you keep your website — the better writer/podcaster/researcher/thinker you’ll be, and the greater the chance your ideas will spread.

That doesn’t mean you should post every day. Quality is just as important as quantity. Find a frequency that works for your business and your audience.

But there’s no way around it: successful content marketing involves creating a lot of content, and keeping it up over a period of weeks, months, and years.

But really, what are your alternatives? Spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) on advertising that doesn’t work?

Don’t throw in the towel at the thought of creating all that content!

Today I’m going to show you a technique that — in exchange for some bursts of intense hard work — will bring you long breaks from the content creation hamster wheel.

Binging is bad. Almost always.

Binge eating? Bad. Binge drinking? Terrible. Binge exercising? Not advisable.

But binge writing? Good. Very, very good.

Today’s post will outline how to plan, implement, and use the results from several binge writing sessions.

(And be sure you scroll down to the SlideShare presentation at the end of this post for a visual representation of this technique.)

Pick four days and four times. Schedule blocks of time when your creative energy is at its peak.

That might mean four mornings in a row. If you’re a night owl, you could do this over four late nights.

Schedule it into your calendar, and start getting excited. You’re about to be very, very productive.

Before you begin, plan your outcome

Look ahead at your marketing goals and plan content that will help you achieve them.

What should you tackle first?

Ask yourself what content is most urgent. Is it your next month’s worth of blog posts? A group of landing pages? A sequence of autoresponder emails? A series of weekly newsletters?

Find a group of projects that need to be written, and that would benefit from being written at the same time because they’ll sound more cohesive.

Day 1: Ready, set, outline

Get your environment ready so you have no excuse to stop once you’ve started.

  • Grab provisions — something to drink, and a light snack if you think you’ll need it.
  • Turn off all interruptions, including your phone. Close down any programs that generate alerts.
  • Use reinforcements. If you have a hard time resisting the pull of social media sites while you’re working, use software like the SelfControl App (for Mac) or Anti-Social (Mac and Windows) to block them during your writing binges.
  • Gather any references you plan to use such as books or websites you need open and ready for viewing.
  • Move a little. Get your blood and creativity flowing with a short walk, bike ride, dance break, or weight lifting session.

Then, plant yourself at your keyboard. It’s time to get serious.

To binge write successfully, you’ve got to use a system that will allow you to get your thoughts into tangible form as quickly as possible.

I love mindmaps for this. There’s something about writing little bits and pieces of ideas, and having the ability to move them around and connect them different ways that just works for me.

There are plenty of software programs that will allow you to create mindmaps, or you can draw them out on paper if you prefer.

If mindmaps don’t work for you, try index cards. Write the main idea on the front, and elaborate on the back. Re-organize them until your writing makes sense.

The other tool to try is sticky notes. Some people swear by the minimal space allowed on a sticky note: you have just enough room to state an idea and no more. This limitation will keep perfectionist tendencies at bay, and that’s important.

Create an outline for each of the pieces of writing you plan to tackle. Once you’ve got your outlines ready, you’re done for the day.

Day 2: Write

After the work you did yesterday, your writing shouldn’t be that difficult.

Take your outlines and fill in the missing pieces. Make sure they flow from one paragraph to another. Add subheads where needed.

If you’re writing marketing pieces, make sure each ends with a clear call to action.

And, of course, write headlines that will create curiosity and an irresistible desire to read more.

Do not edit, do not polish, just write. Write more. And don’t stop writing until all your pieces are done.

Day 3: Edit your pieces

One role of editing is make sure your writing style is consistent throughout your work. That’s why editing several pieces in a row actually makes your job easier.

Do you consistently use one sentence paragraphs? Be sure to include at least one in each of the pieces you edit.

Are you a fan of the Harvard comma? Make all your commas consistent.

Take this time to go through your writing carefully. Clarify, polish, and delete extraneous words and sentences.

Most importantly, check to be sure that your writing voice sounds the same across all the pieces you’ve written.

Day 4: Set up your writing on your pages

Have you written a sales page? Get it set up and work on formatting and adding images.

Wrote a month’s worth of posts? Format them, find images, and schedule them for publication. Use the WordPress Editorial Calendar Plugin to set up publishing dates for your content.

Wrote an entire autoresponder series? Open up your email marketing account, set those messages up, and schedule them to start dripping out to your email list.

Whatever you created, now is the time to put it in its final form. Set it up, polish it to perfection, and schedule it to go out to the world.

Now, use your free time wisely

Congratulations: you’ve now freed up time in your schedule where you won’t have to write. You can get off your hamster wheel and take a break.

If you’re really smart, you’ll use the time to support the binge writing you just did. You could:

  • Email influential bloggers and ask them to link to your posts.
  • Create a social media advertising campaign that drives prospects to your autoresponder series.
  • Develop an affiliate campaign that sends people to your sales page.
  • Create complementary materials and link them to your post, like the SlideShare presentation below, or a YouTube video with additional tutorials.

Let’s hear it … are you going to try this technique? Is this something you already do? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

And here’s a little SlideShare I’ve put together for you … enjoy!

About the author

Pamela Wilson


Pamela Wilson is Director of Special Projects at Copyblogger Media. Follow her on Twitter or Google+, and find more from her at BigBrandSystem.com.

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Comments

  1. I kind of do this. I don’t set aside specific days, but I write forward on my blog when I have the creative energy and then take breaks from blogging to work on my book projects.

    As for content. I’m going on two years of writing steady content. I keep tweaking things a little and trying to find that magic spot. I haven’t found it yet. I’m going to be making an intentional change at “intentional rhythms” in 2014. http://www.danerickson.net

    • “Writing forward” is a great way to think about it. Congrats for hitting the two year mark, Dan!

    • hi Dan

      I noticed if I create a ‘set in stone’ schedule, and stick to it, this gives me the confidence to be consistent. Within weeks, you’ll integrate the schedule naturally within your blogging/writing approach and make that your second nature.

  2. Yes! Love this. I can definitely see how getting into a routine of intense writing sessions would be effective, and I definitely agree about creating outlines first. I recently started creating Google docs for large writing projects, and filling in the areas as ideas came to me, rather than focusing on writing beginning to end, and it’s been a much easier process!

    • It’s really hard to keep your energy up when you try to write from beginning to end in one session, I find. Plus, breaking it up over a few days gives your mind more time to think about additional information you want to add, which is a bonus.

  3. Pam –

    LOVE the approach. It’s very much inline with the idea of “batching” or doing similar tasks together. I started applying that principal this summer (not to my writing yet but I will thank you!) and it’s done wonders for productivity.

    When we get into a particular mindset it’s much easier to stay focused and do quality work because you’re in the zone as opposed to jumping around between cognitively unrelated activities.

    Great stuff!

    • Interesting that this has worked in other areas for you, Scott.

      I’m betting you’re like me … you spend a lot of time jumping between “cognitively unrelated activities” (aka, jobs that use different parts of your brain). Batching similar tasks together makes you work more efficiently: I know it works for me.

  4. Hi Pamela,

    My creative energy is at its peak on the weekends because I have more time to devote to the blog on my freelance writing website and other projects; however, I need to devote more time to my other two blogs (I need to let the fourth one go or revamp it). I could dedicate Saturday my freelance writing website and Sunday to my other two blogs. Or I could choose a weekday to work on one of the blogs. Then again, I can be a night owl. I definitely need to stick to a schedule. :)

  5. This was timely, as I have been disgruntled about my yield! So thanks!

    In my case, the “alternative” is to have to go out and get a real job, and so that keeps me motivated. :-)

    Also, regular feedback from readers that my work is helpful really goes a long way to keeping me motivated.

  6. Wow! I would have never thought of planning my work quite like this and in so much detail. Thank you kindly for sharing!

  7. I will definitely use your post to improve my writing. Thanks Pamela!

  8. hi Pamela

    You say to email influential bloggers and ask them to link to our post.

    Do you think this is the right way to do it, I mean, do you recommend we specifically ask for a link in return or just let them decide for themselves?

    • The best approach is “I think this article would be of use to your audience” and leave it at that. Don’t specifically ask for a link, frame it in terms of benefit to their audience, which means it’s a benefit to them.

    • Absolutely.

      To add to that, I have my marketing schedule set pretty far in advance. If I’m sent something useful that I’d like to share, it’s easier to do so if there’s some flexibility about exactly where it’s shared.

      Some pieces work best in my newsletter, others are great for Twitter, Google+ or Facebook. I like it when I’m given options. :-)

  9. First off, thanks for the heads up on the WP editorial calendar plug-in :-]

    “Hamster wheel” – I guess you are speaking figuratively. If the hamster wheel is all in your mind, as it is in this case, I guess it depends on whether you get to write or you have to write, whether you love your career choice or you hate it.

    I would compare it to climbing a mountain. From a distance it looks easy, a couple of hours at most. Everyone goes “Let’s go! Let’s do it! Bring it on!” Of course, the closer to the mountain you get the bigger it gets, and the closer to the top you get the steeper it gets. Some call it slip sliding away and as someone has famously observed before me, “It’s not the mountain that defeats you, it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

  10. Pamela,

    I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years, and your system would drive me absolutely bonkers .:) But, I’m happy it works for you and I can see how it might work for others.

    The key takeaway from your post is to find a method that plays to your strengths. And keeps writing fun.

    Because, if you don’t enjoy the process (whatever one you create), you’ll stop writing.

  11. Thanks, Katherine.

    I don’t write everything this way. When I look ahead and see a big writing project, or know I’m going to have a busy month, I’ll use this method to crank out a bunch of pieces all at once.

    Enjoying the process is key. This weird little system is actually enjoyable for me!

  12. Pamela,

    I use a version of this plan. I post 3 to 5 times a week and usually have about 3 to 4 weeks scheduled ahead of time. I usually write a couple posts during the week. I tend to block write on Saturdays and take Sundays off from writing. Thanks for sharing.

  13. My writing style: Stare at the computer for 20 minutes, over-think everything, give up…*sigh* End result? What should take 3 hours takes 3 days :(

    I really should shut off all distractions and just write. TV isn’t helping. lol

  14. Great post, this is a wonderful way to keep your writing fresh. Thanks for sharing!

  15. I am SO GRATEFUL for this post! I’ve set aside ‘writing time,’ but end up being distracted and/or frustrated. The thought of getting everything done in one sitting always overwhelms me. Being new, I never considered breaking it up into this method. I get stuck on one post and stay there for days until I work through it. Maybe outlining and working on a few projects at a time is exactly what I need. Thank you much for this suggestion. : )

  16. I need to start doing this. I think I would not know what to do with myself if I actually sat down and wrote out a months worth of posts that could really help me with Procrastination. This sounds really great and I can’t wait to give it a shot.

  17. This is definitely appealing to me! My binge would need to be spread over a couple of weeks to work around my schedule -but to keep the momentum up, not lose the thread or the ‘voice’ would be great.

    A novelist friend goes on writers’ retreats occasionally. Imagine it. Country walks, cooked meals and solitary writing. A fabulously indulgent and productive binge. How good would that be?!

    Thanks for the inspiration Pamela.

    • It’s definitely a flexible technique, Jacqueline, so spreading it over several weeks should work fine.

      A writer’s retreat sounds wonderful! (Hard to imagine, but wonderful!)

  18. Great post, Pamela. More and more lately I’m finding myself binge writing out of *necessity*, basically for all the reasons that Scott Ellis so eloquently outlined in his comment above.

    We all have to wear many different hats that require different skill sets and different mindsets. And I’ve found that my efforts get diluted if I try to work on too many tasks simultaneously. Better to get “in the zone” and do that one thing really well, then move on to the next.

    Maybe that’s why I’ve never been a big fan of call-waiting. :-)

    • I chuckled at your call waiting comment, Mark.

      I removed that years ago, and have had people email me, frantic to let me know that my “phone line was down” because they got a busy signal when they called.

      One thing at a time! Those little interruptions really chip away at your productivity.

  19. I love your approach here Pamela! Lately, I’ve been writing 3 posts all on a Monday, then scheduling them for the rest of the week. It’s been more productive for me, but I like the idea of writing a month of posts in a few days, that would work even better!

    Sometimes getting away from the keyboard is great too – I go down to a river or close to the beach and write in my notebook. My thoughts flow better when I’m in my favorite environment, and I leave the phone home! Hand writing is slower but my thoughts flow better, so it’s faster in the long run.

    • Thanks, Julieanne.

      I had jury duty a few weeks ago, and got three posts written while I waited to see if they called my name. All I had was a pad of paper and a pencil, but because of that I ended up sketching out ideas for graphics, too.

      (Hmm … I think I need to do that more often!)

  20. Pamela, I’m afraid I have to disagree. I think binge writing is a killer:
    1. It kills creativity
    2. It clogs the web with inane, irrelevant content
    3. It desensitises the impact on the receiver
    4. It is the opposite end of spectrum when it comes to thought leading content – which is informed, thoughtful, novel content. I call it content on steroids because of the significant impact it can have on the target audience.

    Its binge writing which has led us — Dr Liz Alexander and I at Leading Thought to start something called ‘The Slow Content’ movement. Quite the opposite to binge writing, slow content is clever, thoughtful, insightful writing. Writing that is well researched. Writing that is client centric preferably on issues and challenges they face. Writing that adds a novel point of view. Writing that forces people out of their mental myopia and makes them think differently or better still changes their behaviour.

    In our drive for SEO, shareability, greater share of voice, etc, we have lost sight of why we write in the first place which is to influence a market. When binge writing turns off the very audience we are trying to reach only then will the massively clogged arteries of information out there start being cleansed by more informed, better written and more thoughtful pieces. Until then we will continue to groan under the weight of fast content on the web and other social media sites.

    • Craig, I think I know where you’re coming from, and in general I’m very sympathetic to it — for me, though, this one was more about batching the tasks that go into thoughtful writing.

      The kind of junk-food content that I see around the web (and heartily dislike) isn’t edited, isn’t researched — it’s just extruded for pennies a word. Content produced by the method Pamela is talking about is more like how books are written — in larger, more cohesive chunks.

      That’s how I see it, you may see it differently.

      • Sonia if that’s what she meant then great but I’m not so sure. To me it is more about churning out lots of content. And that’s the problem.

        • Craig,

          The post is about writing thoughtful content efficiently.

          The quality of the content depends on the writer, of course, but I believe encouraging authors to spread out their writing over several days — with specific times devoted to planning, writing and editing — will result in overall better content than someone who tries to churn it all out in one sitting.

          • Pamela and you’ve done that superbly, however, one cannot escape the fact that the premise of this is, as you say:”successful content marketing involves creating a lot of content, and keeping it up over a period of weeks, months, and years.” And that’s precisely my issue – the pressure to do this consistently can only mean that quality and the creative process will suffer in the end. One only need look at the amount of drivel around to realise we are right in the midst of it already. It’s the content fast food conundrum.

          • We’ve been doing it here consistently for almost 8 years. You are the judge of the quality, of course, but I think we do pretty well.

    • I’ve been following Pamela and Copyblogger for years and have never felt like they were pushing out junk content just for the sake of pushing out content.
      It’s always relevant, timely and well written.
      I agree that there’s a lot of crap being written out there. But I can always click the ‘Unsubscribe’ link if I don’t like their content.
      In my opinion, Pamela and Copyblogger put out a great product. I want to learn from people like them and am happy to spend my money on their products.

  21. Brian you have indeed but you have been clever about it with the number of bloggers you have submitting fresh, well constructed copy. My grip is there are way too many brands out there not doing this. They are more interested in binging on content than producing the well-planned content you guys produce.

  22. off topic: i’m wondering where you got the image of the hamster? i’m looking for such a picture for a long time and the google image search didn’t help me out.
    thanks for your help!
    markus

  23. I love a good writing post filled with practical tips – well done, thank you.

    You mentioned scheduling above, which seems like the natural counterpart to this. This podcast is from 2010, but I still think of it when I’m considering scheduling content – the producer’s mom schedules her blog a year in advance, which has a kind of brilliance, considering her subject matter. http://www.craftypod.com/2010/07/16/craftypod-119-why-should-you-plan-your-blog-posts-ahead/

  24. Great tips! Thank you. I just love Copy Blogger posts. One thing; I disagree on the efforts to make your voice the same in every post. I think that might get a little boring actually. Just my opinion. Sometimes I’m angry, sad or feeling sarcastic or humorous. These emotions don’t really change my voice but my tone will be different.

    Now, I love to read the comments as I always find great tips from your readers :)

  25. Check out an alternative view to binge writing here http://leadingthought.us.com/2013/11/thought-october/