Earlier this year — after a Copyblogger article I wrote took off — a major publisher approached me and asked if I wanted to write a book on Pinterest marketing.
But there was a catch — in order to get the book deal, I had to write the manuscript in six weeks.
I decided to say yes.
I felt comfortable taking on the challenge because I had a set of skills — what I call my Tools of Super Content Creators — that I could use to crank out a good manuscript in an insanely short amount of time.
So I took on the project, worked like crazy for the entire month of March, and completed a 35,000-word manuscript in just six weeks. That manuscript became my new book, Pinfluence: The Complete Guide to Marketing Your Business with Pinterest.
Here’s what happened, and how I did it …
You can apply my super content creation secrets to mold yourself into better, faster and more efficient writer.
1. Stop making excuses
We’re going to start with a little tough love.
The best tool you have in your writing toolbox is a no-tolerance policy for whining and excuses.
The most important thing you can do as a writer is write. You need to write a lot — every day, if you can — in order to produce great content and become a better writer.
So stop letting yourself off the hook. Stop saying that it’s okay that you haven’t written for a week. It’s not okay. You’re not going to become a better writer if you keep making excuses.
By the end of the six-week writing intensive for my book, I noticed that writing had become a heck of a lot easier. Spending hours working on a chapter didn’t feel like drudgery — it was actually fun.
This wasn’t a magic trick. It was the result of sitting down to write for many hours, every single day, for five solid weeks.
So plan on making writing a practice and shutting the door on excuses and justifications.
2. Decide to be a professional
Author Steven Pressfield gives great advice to writers who are looking to reach the next level in their craft:
What we need to do as writers, artists or entrepreneurs is to turn pro, mentally. [We need to] take ourselves seriously and take our work seriously, and really sort of bear down on it …
He asserts that taking our work seriously, and “turning pro” in our own minds, is the main difference between amateurs and professionals.
While I was writing my book, I didn’t wake up in the morning asking myself, “Should I write today?”
I knew that my job, every single day, was to write to the best of my ability for a large portion of the day. I was a professional — and that’s what professionals do.
As soon as the book was done, I immediately shifted gears and moved into writing guest posts for other blogs. Since my main marketing strategy for my book is to publish guest posts as much as I can, I’m writing three or four substantial articles every week. And I bring my professional mindset to writing my guest post assignments, too.
I take myself seriously and my writing seriously — and so can you. And once you “go pro,” you’ll be amazed what a difference it will make in your productivity.
Yes, you will still need to face resistance — we all do. But having a professional mindset gives you a really big sword with which to face our dragons of procrastination and self-doubt.
3. Set a schedule that works for you
For some people, batching their writing works well. They set aside one afternoon (or one day) a week, and crank out as many blog posts as they can. For others, it works better to write at same time each day.
We all know our own personal rhythms, and when we’re most likely to be productive and clear-headed. You need to create a writing schedule that works with your personal peak productivity times.
After hearing for years that “great” writers are early risers who crank out several chapters before breakfast, I tried for months to be an early-morning writer. But I’m not a morning person — I’m a night owl. So after multiple days of falling asleep over my keyboard at dawn, I eventually embraced my late-night productivity instead. Now I consistently do my best writing between 10 PM and midnight.
So schedule your writing at a time that works for you.
Just don’t kid yourself into thinking that you will write when you’re in the mood to write. Part of taking our writing seriously is sitting down at the keyboard even when we’re not particularly inspired or energetic. If we develop a habit of waiting until we feel like writing, we may go weeks without creating anything.
4. Keep generosity in your heart
Remember why we write. We’re not writing just to produce a blog post or a free report (or even a book). We’re writing because we want to help people.
When I was writing Pinfluence, it helped enormously to hold a picture in my mind of entrepreneurs who needed to learn Pinterest marketing strategies. I wrote the book so I could help those business owners.
Writing in order to help someone is far easier than frantically trying to feed the content monkey on your back.
It’s also more fun and a heck of a lot more interesting.
5. Break the project down
I knew when I started my book project that if I sat down at my computer every day and faced the daunting task of writing an entire 35,000 word manuscript, I would likely just want to put my head down and cry (or go straight to the liquor cabinet for a large glass of tequila).
So, I divided my book up into smaller, more manageable sections.
My first step was to write out my book’s table of contents. I wrote the entire table of contents in a stand-alone document. Then when I was writing, I tackled one chapter at a time.
If you’re working on a blog post and want to use this technique, you can write out an outline of the post (including major subheadings), then tackle one section at a time.
6. Track your progress
When I was writing, I continuously monitored my progress a simple technique: color-coding.
As I wrote each chapter, I updated that section in my table of contents and highlighted it in a certain color. Chapters that were mostly finished were pink, fully completed chapters were blue, and so forth.
In one quick glance, I could look at my table of contents and see exactly how much I had accomplished — and where there was still a lot of work to be done. This helped me stay on track by letting me know that I was making progress, and helped me decide each day where I needed to focus my energy.
You can use this technique on the editorial calendar for your own blog, as well as on a list of upcoming guest posts or other assignments.
7. Suit up
When I was writing my book, I had a writing uniform. Yes, it was just a pair of comfy sweats and a t-shirt, but it was a uniform, nonetheless. I would don my writing uniform every day when I was ready to work, and I think it gave my subconscious a subtle message that said, “It’s time to write!”
There was another big advantage to my uniform — putting it on kept me from hanging out in my pajamas all day. I knew that when I had my uniform on, I could go for a walk around the block, run out to the grocery store, or visit a coffee shop and not feel embarrassed (okay, I was a little embarrassed — but the sweats worked in a pinch).
Because I didn’t spend all day in my pajamas, I could actually get some occasional social contact during my working hours. My uniform kept me from getting too isolated — a major issue for artists and writers like us.
8. Balance consuming and creating
Our brains need food in order to create. I wholeheartedly believe that reading great writing will make us better writers. So I suggest you fuel up — read your favorite blog, or dig into a spectacular book.
Just make sure you’re not fueling up with junk food. Reading bad writing won’t help you become a better writer — it will just leave you feeling hungry.
But more importantly — if we want to be super-productive writers, we need to carefully balance the time we spend consuming and creating.
Writing and creativity coach Cynthia Morris recommends taking notice of how much information we consume every day — including blogs, social media, videos, podcasts and books. If you consume too much, you will have no time or energy left to create.
“Our creative work is directly affected by what we consume,” Morris says. “We must guard our precious creating time and energy, our life will slip by and all we will have to show for it is that we scanned a lot of articles and watched a lot of YouTube videos.”
9. Create a checklist
I’m a huge fan of using checklists to make life easier and avoid mistakes. I highly suggest creating checklists for your writing life.
Your daily writing checklist could include things like:
- Writing 1000 words (or whatever word count works for you) on your current project
- Taking a walk to recharge
- Speaking with someone on the phone or in person (Facebook doesn’t count)
- Editing part (or all) of a previous piece
- Reading some great writing — book, newspaper, blog, or other source — to fuel your mind
10. Don’t delete
When I was writing Pinfluence, I kept a document called “Odds and Ends” open on my computer at all times. If I needed to cut some text, I didn’t delete it — I copied that section into my Odds and Ends document, instead.
I often found that I could use my “leftover” text in other places, and this document became a huge time saver for me. And even if the text you cut can’t be used in the current post you’re working on, you might be able to use it in a future project.
11. Create action triggers
In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath recommend putting action triggers in place when you’re trying to create a new habit.
For example, you could schedule a writing session right after you drop your kids off at school — or right after you’re done with breakfast. Action triggers are even more powerful when you write down your plans, or tell them to a friend or family member.
Recent studies at New York University tracked the success of people trying to accomplish difficult goals. When they used an action trigger, their success rate nearly tripled — 62 percent of people accomplished their goal (vs 22 percent with no action trigger).
So make a decision to write when you encounter a certain situational trigger — it will lower your resistance and increase your chance of success.
What to do next …
We’d all love to become better, more efficient writers — and using these tools can help you take great strides in getting there. Content creation will become easier the more you practice.
When you get in the habit of writing regularly — and have tools at the ready to deal with the demons of resistance that inevitably rear their nasty little heads — you will have days in which content creation is a joy.
You will have moments when phrases and paragraphs feel like they are flying from your fingertips like spun gold. Like the whole world is your own personal cheering section, urging you onward toward blogging greatness.
And in those moments, you will truly feel like a content creation superhero.
About the Author: Beth Hayden is an author, speaker, and content marketing expert who specializes in working with small businesses. To find out how to get more traffic to your site by writing wildly popular blog posts, grab your free copy of Beth's report, How to Write Blog Posts That Go Viral.
Beth will also be attending the 2015 Authority Rainmaker event this May -- so make sure to come over and say hi when you arrive!