It’s easy to write content for a topic you care about. When first burrowing into the world of content writing, imagination runs thick with daydreams of sitting at a coffee shop playing Muzak in the background, pulling up Word, and churning out 3,000 words about how your experience backpacking last summer is the pinnacle of a happy, healthy lifestyle. The process in these daydreams is pretty simple, really:
- Sit down in comfortable position
- Write 3,000 words
- Edit your work
- Optional: Order a pastry and coffee so you don’t feel like you’re taking advantage of the free WiFi at this coffee shop
That’s not how this works, though. There are going to be topics you don’t care to write about, in styles you don’t like to write in, with formats that aren’t your first choice.
Even when it is your passion, there’s going to be periods where you’re not feeling it. You know what these periods feel like, and the process in these realities is a lot more convoluted:
- Sit down in comfortable position
- Write one sentence
- Realize this is an uncomfortable position
- Move to new comfortable position
- Change your fantasy football lineup
- Delete your first sentence and write a new one
- Change your fantasy football lineup back
- Repeat steps 1-7 ad infinitum
This, however, is the job. Tales of your backpacking adventure is best saved for your own passion project blog. Your task is what your employer puts in front of you, same as any other job. While the wit and banter you choose to use throughout the post is all your own, your employer has a destination in mind. I’m here to contribute some techniques I use to make sure that my article reaches that destination on time without sacrificing the wit and banter that individualizes it.
The tips below are not some new, novel techniques that will change your life and writing totally for the better. They may not work at all for some people. They are, however, what worked for me as a researcher in academia tasked with writing papers on topics that wore on me over time. There are thousands of articles on beating procrastination because it is damn hard to beat it. I am not saying that these tips will work for 100% of you; I am merely stating that they might help the percentage of you that work similarly to me. So, without further ado, here are a few methods I use to meet my deadlines.
Don’t end your day with a completed thought
This appears counter-intuitive at first glance, but I promise you that there is clear rationale underneath. Think of your article as a block of marble you’re crafting into a smooth, concise work of art. Each paragraph/thought is just one part of the overall work, a standalone smoothed patch among other standalone patches to be smoothed. It feels really, really good to look at your work at the end of the day and see it as smooth – to have a good “stopping place.” I’m telling you, however, that it’s much more effective to plunge your chisel into another chunk of the marble a few times at the end of the day. Take a stab at your next idea, throwing out a sentence or two of the next paragraph for you to look at tomorrow.
The reasoning for this is that it can be really hard to figure out the next steps of your piece when there’s not an obvious patch to chisel out (or thread to tug at or whatever imagery-filled parallel you wish to use). Beyond the confusion, there can be some fear and cognitive dissonance at play. When things look good, it is hard to delve in and begin something “bad,” as the first pass at a new thought often appears.
I use this technique to get the ball rolling, especially on the chunks of marble that are particularly difficult to feel motivated towards. Usually what ends up happening is this: I think about those one or two sentences I wrote during the night, consider how to approach it, and start fresh the next day with a plan of attack. This mental process would be delayed several hours if I had stopped at the completion of my previous paragraph.
Write at least one sentence a day
This extends from the previous suggestion, although the exact length can vary (For my thesis I chose at least a page a day, no matter how terrible the writing). Forcing yourself to write at least that one sentence/paragraph/page a day forces your mind to focus on the subject, allowing you to subconsciously mull it over throughout your day. Not writing anything at all can contribute to an “out of sight, out of mind” view towards your article. You need to keep your articles roughly in focus, no matter how much you may want to avoid them.
To me, writing is like stew. Sometimes you need to put the heat on low to let things solidify in the background. Be gentle with yourself by understanding that life and moods and writer’s block can get in the way, but be forceful enough with yourself to meet your minimum goal. You’ll thank yourself the next day when you sit down at your desk with thoughts percolating through your head on how to tackle a certain issue.
If you can’t write, find a way to better understand the world around your topic
First and foremost, this means research the topic assigned to you, even if you are an expert. You’re not the only expert in anything, no matter the subject. For content writing, this can mean learning more about your employer’s company. No one should come into the writing portion of the project with a mindset different to that of your employer, so research is essential. Why not choose to do it during the times when you have no motivation to do the actual writing?
Furthermore, if you are totally hating the idea itself at the moment, you can always fall back on learning more about content writing in general. Passive Solutions has a plethora of information available on how to capitalize on your writing. For example, take some time to learn about SEOs, either for your passion project blog or for the piece you are writing. Sometimes reading about the overall structure of a project can give you the burst of energy you need to sit down and begin building the individual, dull parts.
Complete is better than perfect
I have a terrible time putting the finishing touches on things, as it is the last relinquishing of control before letting another judge your work. I have several handfuls of sports data analysis blog posts fully analyzed and complete save a conclusion paragraph – I’m okay with waiting on these, they’re for my own pleasure. This blog post, however, is not for me – I have to sit here and tell myself I’m done at a certain point. I will sit and edit it, and edit it again, but continually checking it again and again will only lead to my own dissatisfaction with the product.
As I’ve told my girlfriend for years when applying for jobs, there is always going to be another mistake in your cover letter. Maybe it’s only an A- blog post; maybe you’re mad at yourself for not taking the time earlier to make it an A+. The law of diminishing returns, however, points out that heedless re-editing of your work is not going to produce any significant new realized gains. Do what you can to perfect the piece, but don’t miss deadlines on quality work just because you’re scared it’s not Pulitzer Prize-worthy.
Be gentle with yourself
This also ties in with the previous messages, and is one I’m still trying to follow. We all know that we’re capable of writing in that three-hour burst of inspiration I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Every other writing period where that burst is missing can feel like failure at times. It’s not. These struggles will help you complete your project. Even if you only get that bare minimum sentence down, you’re farther along than you were yesterday. By being gentle with yourself, you’re letting those thoughts percolate in the background while you go about doing your other tasks.
So please, be gentle with yourself. Eat a cupcake, watch a dumb TV show, and give your in-progress article the middle finger for a few hours. It’ll survive until your deadline – make sure you will as well.