Here’s My Step-By-Step Process For Writing 1,000+ Articles
If somebody would’ve told a 24-year-old me that I would go on to write over 1,000 blog posts and author multiple books — and mostly on the same subject — I would’ve told them to lay off the crack.
But here we are, eight years later, and that’s exactly what happened. The writing. Not the crack.
All this writing was never a goal I set myself. It just happened. I started writing about music production as a way to solidify the topics I was learning in audio engineering school. And then….I never stopped.
I made writing a habit, and as any productivity guru will tell you, habits are the building blocks of productive output.
Do you want to write a book? No problem. Write 250 words Monday through Friday for a year. That’s about 65,000 words. Let’s assume that you like Stephen King’s 10% rule and throughout the editing process you’ll cut about 10% from your book because of redundancies, unnecessary adverbs and poor syntax and grammar. That’s 58,500 words. Easily enough content for a solid book.
Or you go my route and write shorter, 25,000-word books that cover niche subjects. They’re easier to write. They take less time. You can publish more often, and you can sell more copies.
But, you must start at the beginning. Your first 250 words. That’s where this article will help. What follows is my process of writing. Whether I’m writing books about mixing for my audience, my daily emails to my subscribers or my posts about creativity and entrepreneurship on Medium, this is the process I take to keep churning out content on a regular basis.
I hope it helps!
Step 1 — Ideas
The first step has nothing to do with writing. It’s a preemptive measure to make sure you never run out of anything to write about. Sitting down at your laptop and staring at a blank screen and hoping for a great idea in the moment is wishful thinking.
It’s much better to come equipped with ideas to bring to the table.
I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s theory about ideas. In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, she writes:
“I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us — albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner.”
If you believe we’re surrounded by invisible idea energy at all times, it’s important to take notes when a particularly strong one intercepts your psyche. That’s when my Wunderlist app comes into play. Wunderlist is my list-taking app, and one of the most important lists in that app is my “Post Ideas” list.
It’s where I log every single idea, however dumb it may sound in the moment.
Here’s a screenshot of my most recent random ideas to file for later:
You’ll see a lot of disjointed thoughts, strange storylines, and neurotic narratives. And that’s the entire point. It’s not supposed to be pretty. Most of those ideas don’t mean anything to anybody except me. But this list serves an invaluable purpose.
The very act of writing the idea down means that I don’t have to think about it anymore. I’ve taken it out of my very inefficient brain that has a hard time remembering where I left my phone, let alone remembers a million different ideas about crazy thoughts I have throughout the day.
Now, if you believe that ideas are disembodied energies, then you could argue that I’m just creating a prison for them, but I look at it as a rehabilitation center where they get to meet other ideas and talk about themselves, before being released into the next chapter of their lives.
That’s where step 2 of the writing process comes in:
Step 2 — Outlines
Although you can flesh out an idea in a burst of inspiration and end up with a decent article — something I’ve done many a times — it’s easier when you let the ideas gestate a bit further.
I regularly go through my idea list, and I pick the ones I relate to the most and make them into outlines for articles. At this point, my goal is to flesh out the main points I want to tackle instead of writing the article. I won’t do any writing unless a particularly aggressive idea screams “Write me next! Write me next! Pick me!”
My outline process is simple. I’ll write a synopsis of the idea, I’ll add a reminder to touch on a few main points, and then I’ll outline the conclusion and what call to action the reader should take after reading.
You might be pretty familiar with this outlining process because it’s the same one that you learned in Writing 101 in College. Turns out, you’ll use some of those classes throughout your life.
I use Evernote for outlining my articles. I’ll have a notebook called, unsurprisingly, Writing, where I flesh out all my ideas for a later date.
Here’s a screenshot of some of the past articles I’ve written on Medium and elsewhere, as well as some outlines of things I haven’t gotten to yet:
Step 3 — Shitty Drafts
The next step is to succumb to the fact that your writing will never be good immediately. Once you accept this, you can start writing with speed rather than precision. Get words down on screen even if they absolutely suck. Worry about editing later. Now is the time to get the content down. So take your critic hat off, lock your imposter syndrome in the closet (actually, just keep him in there), and then free-write. It’s more about getting the overall thoughts down than putting perfect paragraphs on paper.
I write my shitty first drafts in Hemingway, as a Google Document or inside the WordPress Editor. It doesn’t matter as long as you get the words down. A specific writing app doesn’t automatically make you a more prolific writer. Only words on the page make you a better writer.
So close your distractions, throw your phone across the room and set your writing program to full-screen. Then get to work.
Your goal here is a shitty draft. Like, a real shitty draft. Something you shouldn’t show to anybody. It should make you physically ill to read it. And if you read it out loud you should hear your imposter syndrome maniacally laughing from the closet, pounding on the door like a crazed demon who thinks he’s caught you in a trap.
Except that he’s an idiot that doesn’t understand the process of how shitty drafts lead to perfect pages. That brings us to step 4, the editing part.
Step 4 — Edited Drafts
Ok, now you have an article. Congratulations. You made an ugly baby. Unfortunately, it’s one of those babies you get unfriended on Facebook for posting too many pictures of.
However, unlike real babies, you can edit this one to make it prettier. They still frown upon genetic editing, but there’s nothing wrong with editing your grammar.
For that, there are no better tools than Hemingway and Grammarly. Hemingway is a real grumpy sonofabitch, and I’m not talking about the aggressively prolific alcoholic who wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. The Hemingway app is just as bad because it thinks every sentence you write is too complicated.
The beauty of all those highlighted words is that it makes you think real hard about each sentence. A yellow sentence here and there is fine. There’s no getting around them when you’re trying to make a point for educated adults. But those red sentences are tough to defend. I struggle to rewrite them, break them into two sentences, or conjure up a way to make the red highlighting go away. Sometimes it’s impossible.
The first sentence of this article? Completely red. Whatever.
Once I’ve finagled my phrases into shape, I’ll usually do another pass in Grammarly. I use Grammarly Premium because the extra suggestions help you make your prose cleaner and more concise.
Finally — and I do this throughout both the writing and editing process — I use Rhymezone.com for their synonym dictionary. When I start using too many adverbs, I try to find a more forceful verb to describe an action instead. And when I’ve used the same word ad nauseam, it’s easy to swap them out with more exciting words to spice up my speech. See, I just did it right there.
Step 5 — Final Article Formatting
I usually do one more read through while I format the article with subheadings, paragraph breaks and pull quotes.
Sometimes I’ll read it aloud. Most of the time I’m lazy, and I’ll just make sure there aren’t any glaring errors.
Sometimes I don’t catch all the errors, and that’s ok. I’m not perfect, and I’d rather publish 100% more content that’s 90% error-free than not post anything at all because I’m too scared of perfection.
There are probably errors in this article if you look hard enough. I’m not perfect, and neither are you. But you’re reading my writing, so I must be doing something right.
Step 6 — Finding a good headline
I use the Coschedule Headline Analyzer to help me structure my headlines.
I understand the irony of using a robot to help me create a headline that intrigues humans, but it usually works pretty well. Try to strike a balance between a headline that’s almost clickbait-y and one that delivers on the value you’re trying to convey.
Step 7 — Finding an exciting image to use
You need an excellent eye-catching image to capture the interest of the ever-scrolling audience you find online. I use www.Pixabay.com for all my featured images and photos. They are royalty-free and easy to find.
Step 8 — Publish
The last step is a hard one, especially if you’re afraid of what people might think of your writing. Fuck ’em. If they don’t like it, they can go somewhere else.
Having published an article, even one that doesn’t make you world-famous immediately, is a lot better than not publishing at all.
So that’s all there is to it. Keep an eye on your ideas, flesh them out when you have time, and then vomit out your words until you’re done. You can always clean up the mess later.