Imagine how much more productive and rewarding your writing time could be if, when you made time to write and sat down and opened that laptop, you could get right to it? Staring at a blank page wondering when the right words will come cost time you can’t afford to waste.
In a recent Office Hours Live Chat, I got to pick the brain of a business writer and writing coach Miranda Miller. She’s been writing for brands and other organizations for over 15 years and now teaches other writers tricks and tips to dramatically improve the quality and value of their writing. I asked her to share her favorite writing hacks to help busy entrepreneurs like you enhance your productivity, gain more publicity, and ultimately see far more value from the time you spend creating content.
Here are a few of the highlights from our talk.
1. Schedule time to write.
The greatest challenge for business people who want to create thought leadership and PR-worthy pieces, Miranda said, is that it ends up feeling like an extra chore you have to get through. When we deprioritize writing by leaving it until we have “spare time” or tacking it on the end of an already-packed workday, it becomes a sort of punishment rather than an opportunity.
Schedule time into your calendar early in the day to write. You don’t have to finish the piece in one sitting, so don’t put it off until you think you have enough time to do it all at once. Try setting aside a two-hour block to start, and use this next hack to make the most out of it.
2. Write in sprints using the Pomodoro technique.
The Pomodoro technique is a time management tactic created by Francesco Cirillo, who used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (hence the “Pomodoro” moniker) to measure 25-minute work sprints. Between sprints, you take 5 to 10 minutes to get up from your desk and take a break (or, if you’re participating in group coaching such as Miranda’s, to network and chat with your fellow writers). This gives you four super-productive work sprints in two hours.
You begin each two-hour session with a clear set of goals in mind. Set yourself up with writing success by setting an achievable goal for each Pomodoro. Structure your writing sprints to maximize your creativity by following the process in this next writing hack.
3. Work with your brain, not against it.
There’s nothing worse than sitting down to write and just staring at the blank page. Set yourself up for writing success by making time to outline and research your piece. In your first Pomodoro, create an outline that will give your story structure.
What information do you already have, and where does it fit in the piece—in the introduction, body, or conclusion?
What else do your readers want to know about this subject, and where can you find that information?
Who else is talking about this topic, and are there other reputable sources you can cite to strengthen the piece?
Will there be any images, video, or social content embedded in your piece, and how do they add to your story?
These tools can help you plan a more robust, compelling story, whether you’re working on a blog post, press release thought leadership article or other pieces:
- AnswerThePublic.com – Type in your topic and see what questions people have been asking search engines about it.
- Google Trends – See topics and terms related to yours.
- BuzzSumo – Find the most read and shared content on any topic.
- Social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are all great places to see
Get as much information down in your outline as you can in your first writing sprint, then walk away for your break. While you take a quick walk around the office or chat with another writer in your group, your subconscious is digesting the information it’s been fed. It’s percolating, as Miranda says.
4. Give yourself permission to suck.
Through these next steps, try not to edit yourself as you write. You don’t need to find exactly the right words or craft perfect sentences at this point. You might think that you’ll save time by not having to edit later, but can seriously hamper your efforts if you don’t allow yourself to write freely.
If you get stuck and have absolutely no idea where to start, use one of these 103 awesome copywriting tips to get yourself motivated.
5. Flesh out one section at a time.
You might choose to write your introduction first, but don’t feel that you have to. Miranda often encourages her writers to leave the introduction until last.
“I like to get my subheadings straight right from the start. Establish the body first, because the information you find in your research might change the course of your piece,” Miranda said. Once the ‘meat’ of your piece is completed, you can then craft an introduction that accurately describes to readers what they can expect and why they should continue reading.
Set a goal at the beginning of the session. Will you write one body section per writing sprint, and complete the introduction and conclusion in the fourth (and final) one? Write down your progress. It will help you stay motivated when you give yourself those quick wins.
6. Enrich and improve your writing with free tools.
Don’t have your own writing coach? No problem! You can dramatically improve the quality of each piece and build better writing habits by using a few tools as part of your editing process. The best part is, Miranda’s favorites are free. She recommends:
- Hemingway App – Check your writing for passive vs active voice, readability, use of adverbs and more with this simple-to-use web-based tool. Simply copy and paste your text into the app and it’ll bring back helpful suggestions to make your writing stronger and more clear.
- Grammarly – This free writing assistant can be installed as a browser extension that automatically suggests improvements to grammar and spelling in your web-based documents (such as Google Docs), emails, and more. There’s a more robust premium version, as well.
- Copyscape – Make sure your content is 100% unique with this free plagiarism checker.
7. Get comfortable with SEO basics.
Google aims to provide each searcher with top quality content that meets their unique needs. As a writer, it’s your job to make sure Google understands how your content is relevant to specific searches. That’s SEO, in a nutshell.
Google is smart enough to recognize synonyms and themes, so you don’t need to repeat specific keywords throughout your copy (in fact, stuffing too many keywords into your writing can make Google pretty unhappy with you!).
Instead, make sure your content centers around a well-defined theme, and that you use words in your title, introduction, subheadings, image alt text, and throughout the body that make that theme clear. Think about your ideal reader—what are they typing into the search bar when they’re looking for content like yours?
8. Think like an editor when you write your pitch.
Editors have a job to do. Instead of approaching them with your own need to get published in mind, how can you help them?
Every day, they sift through massive piles of pitches. They have publishing deadlines looming and need to find the most interesting, engaging content for their readers. They’re under the gun from advertisers to produce page views and reads. It’s your job as a content creator to quickly prove to an editor you’re pitching that you can meet their need for top quality, timely, and relevant stories—and that you’re prepared to do the work to publicize it, too.
Keep your pitches brief and to the point. Nurture your relationships with editors by connecting with them on social once in a while, so you aren’t only reaching out when you’re asking for something.
Does writing feel like a punishment?
It shouldn’t! Improve your motivation, creativity and writing tips with these hacks and others from my interview with Miranda Miller.
Have any questions? Contact The Buyer Group for any suggestions or help you may need.