How to Leverage Your Writing Time and Efforts
It’s fun to just get in the car and drive somewhere, explore new places, enjoy the journey without a care for the destination. Writing is similar. Sometimes we want to explore a topic and see where it takes us. While this can be an excellent creative and/or therapeutic exercise, it doesn’t always work when we’re trying to create something marketable. Ambling around a draft isn’t the fastest way to reach “the end.” Professional writers need to produce a steady stream of good content, and having a road map that leads to our destination keeps us headed in the right direction. This doesn’t mean that we can’t take side trips that come up and look enticing. Sometimes they work and improve the writing; other times, we find ourselves at a deadend. Having to backtrack is time consuming and annoying.
Being able to write consistently rests on a good writing plan. While some writers can sit at their computers and have the writing flow out of them like magic, I can’t. If I don’t plan, writing is a struggle. I need a destination and sign posts along the way to tell me I’m on the right track. When these things are absent, I get lost. Here’s how to plan your writing to produce the results you need.
“Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution; this gives
you a 1,000 percent Return on Energy!” ― Brian Tracy
Step 1. Set up a system to capture ideas.
My idea board is a Word table that includes the topics I frequently write about, random ideas for content, possible titles for articles, and links to resources for research. Sometimes an article intrigues me, but doesn’t fit into one of my categories; in these cases, I add the link under the Intriguing label and a short description about it. My idea board is in a Medium folder in my One Drive where I can access it on my phone since I often read and research when I’m not at my desk. I know writers who use apps like Evernote and OneNote. I’ve tried these, but I find a Word table easier and more flexible.
Step 2. Target specific audiences.
Focusing on our audience makes it easier to decide what topics work best, what angles to take, how much detail and context are needed, what tone and style would work best, and so on. When we define our audience, we can write directly to them, capture their interest, and keep them engaged. For example, if we are writing for an audience of CEOs, our content, structures, tone, and style likely would be very different than if we’re writing for recent college grads — even if we’re writing on the same topic. Ideally, we want more than one audience for every topic, so we can repurpose the research in multiple ways. For this article, let’s choose a young, single entrepreneur and a divorced career woman in her 30s as our two audiences.
Step 3. Choose a multi-purpose topic.
I’m pretty lazy, and I always want my efforts to serve multiple purposes. When it comes to writing, I like topics that have many aspects to them. They easily lead me to other, related, yet different ideas that can be twisted and turned in a variety of ways. For example, let’s take a career/business coach. A multi-purpose topic could be identifying obstacles that hold their clients back. Here are just three main ideas from this topic that can be leveraged into multiple pieces of content for multiple audiences:
- Lack of [fill in]
- Convincing others that they have what it takes to [fill in]
- Mindset matters because [fill in]
Notice that each of these ideas lends itself to additional ideas and audiences. For example, mindset matters encompasses different types of mindsets, changing mindsets, identifying mindsets, how to use mindsets. helping kids develop growth mindsets, the right mindset for aging, and so on.
Step 4. Match ideas and targeted audiences.
After we have chosen the main ideas for our topic, we want to create an angle that works for our targeted audiences. Let’s look at our ideas and how they can be twisted for each audience.
Young, single entrepreneur
Lack of [self confidence]
- You probably have more experience than you give yourself credit for.
- How to turn part-time work experience into a full-time business.
Convincing others that you have what it takes to [fill in]
- How to overcome resistance and be more persuasive regardless of your age or experience.
- How to use case studies that convince others to work with you.
- Is a fixed mindset keeping you from tackling big, hairy, lucrative assignments?
- Cultivate the right mindset for entrepreneurial success.
Divorced, career woman in her 30s
Lack of [self confidence]
- How to use career setbacks as stepping stones.
- How to ask for a salary increase with confidence and conviction.
Convincing others that you have what it takes to [fill in]
- How to overcome objections with becoming objectionable.
- 3 ways to prove that you’re ready for a leadership role
- Don’t let a fixed mindset stand in the way of your career advancement.
- Do you have a leadership mindset?
Step 5. Let research do double and triple duty.
Now that we’ve matched audiences and ideas, we need a system that leverages our research time and sources. I usually set up a folder for each idea and then create sub-folders within that folder. One sub-folder has the research and links for materials relating to all targeted audiences and then each audience has its own sub-folder with resources unique to that audience. Regardless of the system used, we want to gather research materials and links to resources that we think we will need. We don’t know what we actually will use until we review it all; now we’re just creating a repository of sources.
When we’ve gathered enough research, we need to review it, highlighting what we plan to use. For lengthy pieces, I set up an Excel spreadsheet to capture information that I want to use in the piece with the title and hyperlink to the source for reference. I also highlight research that can be used in multiple ways. For example, the mindset research also would work for the self-confidence pieces and vice versa. When the piece is completed, the research folders are archived for future reference along with a Word or PDF version of the completed piece. Research is a gold mine that can be reused over and over again, provided it is organized and kept current.
Step 6. Decide and organize your key points.
If we’ve done enough planning, and the research is lined up, we’re ready to create our key points. Some people use an outline at this point or build the outline as they research. Generally, I just create a set of bullets that I then put into a logical order, knowing that this will probably change later in the process. I also note where I want to insert quotes or links to resources. Now we’re ready to write.
Step 7. Write the first draft.
This is where all the planning pays off in productivity. Writing is not an analytical process. If we’ve done enough planning and researching, we’ve stuffed our brain with the information we need for the piece. We just need to take our list of key points or outline and create a few sentences or paragraphs for each point. Right now, all we’re doing is getting the information out of our heads and onto the page. Spelling, grammar, structure, punctuation don’t matter; we just want to write and get into flow.
When we’re done writing, we put the piece away. The next steps of the process are effective only if we let the first draft get cold because no one sees their mistakes or structural weaknesses in something they have just finished writing. Our brains trick us into thinking we wrote what we intended to write even if we wrote something else entirely. It’s necessary to put aside the first draft and work on something else for at least 30 minutes — a full day is better if possible. Our planning will again come in handy as we revise because we will use it to evaluate the effectiveness of the document — its structure, style, tone, language, and so, as these elements relate to our audience.
The writing process is like a road trip. It takes less gas to drive across country if we map our way forward than if we wander around in the general direction of where we want to go. Planning does take time, but it’s an investment that pays dividends later by saving time and struggle when we’re ready to write and edit our work.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” — Yogi Berra