You need a piece of content to meet your content strategy. Before you, a blank page.
This situation puts many content writers into a state of fear. The tyranny of the blank page is hard to overcome, even when you already have an idea of what you want to write about. Struggling over how to write a piece slows down your content production speed.
Different topics require different amounts of research and thought that can slow down your content production speed. You may not know how long a piece will take you until you’re in the thick of it. And even the best writer can have off-days.
So how do you cope with these in advance? By having a content production workflow. If you have a consistent way to make your content then it is much easier to stay on task. You can also create instructions on what to do when things don’t go as smoothly as you wanted.
Furthermore, if you have a large content team, you talk with your best writers and figure out their workflows, standardize them, then have your other writers follow the standards to bring them up a little more. Do this enough and your brand could have their own process for making content that sets it apart from others.
Different brands and writers work in different ways. In this piece, we’ll describe one process we use to make a B2B blog post from start to finish. Take what works for your team and add your own spin on it.
Make An Idea Bank
This is something we know a lot about! Before you can write content you have to have an idea of what to write about. That’s what CONCURED is all about, content ideation. The iPlan part of CONCURED lets users make cards of ideas to create an idea bank for content writers. When it’s time to make a post, they can pull from one of the cards.
A single idea can produce many kinds of blog posts and articles. A how-to article, like this one, would be different than giving a case study of how a particular writer on our team does their articles.
At CONCURED, we try to make a bank of about eight ideas each month and add more along the way as we get inspired and as the industry changes around. How many you need depends on how often you post. Try to have more than what you need in case one of the ideas falls flat. Not every idea is a good one once you try to put your thoughts down onto paper.
For each idea, the writer also needs to know:
- What the purpose of the post is in the content strategy
- The type of post (listicle, informational, conversational, etc.)
- The audience of the post (e.g. a particular persona)
- The tone of the post
This will help guide word choices and approaches later one and will smooth editing.
Create A Writing Environment
Writing content may seem easy in a world where everyone is texting on social media, but it’s not. Content creators need an environment that works well with their creativity. The first thing is to remove distractions, both online and off-line. It can take 20 minutes for a writer to get into a good flow of words. A single interruption can disrupt the flow. Writers need to be able to go off-the-grid while they work. No email, no Slack notifications. Let them work and come to you when they’re done.
You can set reasonable limits, of course. If you need a 2,000-word piece in 4-5 hours, that’s quite doable. It’s much better to interrupt a writer toward the end of the process than in the beginning. There’s much less to think about. Try checking in an hour before the deadline to find out how the writer is doing and what they might need. If the writer knows to expect this, all the better!
Talk to your writers about the environment they like to write in. They probably have one. Try to find a compromise that works with all your writers and your business. For example, some writers like to mutter to themselves while they are writing. They approach each piece as a conversation. But if others can hear the muttering and are distracted by it, that’s not good. You might need to give the writer some privacy so they can do their best work.
You may remember doing outlines for school. You probably thought they were boring. What they are is an incredibly useful tool, not just for organizing thoughts but also for SEO purposes.
It doesn’t have to be something formal. Really what you want to get down are the title and your subheadings for the piece. Your readers will see those first. When you look at that blank page, start there. Do they make sense in the order they’re in? Do they look like they flow from one to the next? Under each heading, you can jot down a few ideas of what goes into each one. You can also use this structure to put down links for later research.
The goal of this step is to create a framework that the rest of the article can hang from. If the framework isn’t good, the writing won’t be as strong. Creating an outline also lets writers work on different sections of the article independently and prepares them for the next step.
Here is where the words fly. Just write to fill in the sections. Don’t worry about correcting typos, grammar, or flow right now. You just want to get the ideas onto paper. Editing while you’re writing slows you down (though some writers prefer to work this way.)
When you start putting words to paper, the main idea might go off on a tangent. At that point, jot the tangent down in the idea bank and go back to the idea you started on. You can come back to the tangent for a whole new piece later. This is a way for writers to contribute new ideas to the campaign born out of their creativity.
Get out all your ideas on the topic to empty your brain. Once the creative storm has ended, then you can look critically at what came out without being distracted.
Do Basic Editing
What comes out of the free-writing session isn’t likely to be good. Yes, sometimes things do spring forth fully-formed but it’s not the usual. This is when a writer needs to do some basic editing. First, look at what you wrote. Do you still have the same topic or theme than when you started? This can change and it’s not a bad thing! But you need to have that main idea in place so you know which direction you’ll be editing.
If it is completely off-base from where you started you might have to see how it fits in the strategy. Check back to the original idea. Does the new idea still fit in the same categories? Does it help the strategy? If so, roll with it. If not, bring it up later in a meeting to figure out why the idea went that way. There could be something there!
Next, do the basic cleanup. Fix the typos and grammar mistakes. Smooth out the bad word choices. Once that is done, now think about reordering the paragraphs to create a good flow of ideas from top to bottom, keeping in mind the main idea you pulled out earlier. If anything doesn’t fit, don’t toss it before recording it down in the idea bank.
At this point, it’s time to look at word choices. A good way to find problems in a piece is to read the article out loud. Written language is based on spoken language. Your ear can catch weird things that your eyes might skip over. Editors often do the same thing because it’s such a powerful technique.
How long should your writers take to do this? It depends on if you have editors on staff. No writer should send their unorganized free writing to an editor, but it doesn’t have to be perfect either. That’s why you have an editor!
Most writers take longer to edit their pieces than they do to write them. It is rare to find a writer where this isn’t the case. If their editing time is cutting into content production time to meet your strategy, have them send the piece up earlier to an editor so they can turn their attention to a new piece.
Editors have their own processes for checking a piece. That’s beyond the scope of this article (but a good one to put in the idea bank for later!)
If your writers can follow a workflow like this then they’ll have a much easier time creating good content. Bosses can also check in and ask where a writer is in the process. Are they researching, outlining, freewriting, or editing?
Hopefully this process inspires you to create a writing workflow for yourself or your workplace. Let us know what you think.