A guest post by Patrick Stöckmann of Unwrap Your Mind
It’s a dreaded situation for all beginner (and even seasoned) bloggers. You want to write a post, and are sitting in front of a blank page. Suddenly your mind looks just the same – blank. Your inspiration just stopped, and you feel at a loss. We’ve all been there. The good news is that there are some surefire ways of writing quality content in record time.
I want to share with you my techniques for writing a 1,000+ words article in 90 minutes or less.
To show you that I actually do what I preach, I’ve written the first draft of this article in 5 minutes, the second draft (nearly publishable) in 45 minutes, and the final version in 70 minutes. Editing took about 15 minutes and looking up a nice photo added another 5 minutes.
There are 6 steps for creating a successful article in record time:
- Write a first draft
- Create structure and fill the gaps
- Adding a picture
- Publish & Party
Step 1 – Preparation
One of the keys to being able to tap into the fountain of inspiration is to not leave it by chance. This key consists of preparation and structure. Inspiration, preparation and structure go hand in hand very successfully.
1.1 Prepare Your Environment
Your mind works best, when you allow it to focus on one task at a time.
How can you do that?
- Remove clutter. A structured working space mirrors a structured working mind.
- Remove any distractions. If you find you are looking at your phone, turn it off. If you are looking at a magazine, put it into another room.
- Reduce noise.
- Check out a minimalist approach for your writing space. Minimalism doesn’t mean cold and uncomfortable. Your room should be comfortable, but with nothing that could distract you.
- Don’t forget to switch off your phones (use an answering machine if necessary).
- Tell people in your house to not disturb you. Make sure they understand the importance of this time.
1.2 Prepare Your Computer
- Make sure your computer is running stable. If you happen to have a mac, great – your computer might already be stable. But even with a windows machine you must make sure, that it is running smooth and secure. Nothing will kill your motivation faster than writing for an hour and then having a machine crash and losing all your hard works.
- Save early, save often. Remember, first thing to do after you opened a new file is to save it, and then save early, save often. Use a keyboard shortcut (Command-S on a Mac or Control-S on a Windows Machine).
- Clear up your desktop. You should also make your desktop as distraction-free as possible. Remove all clutter here as well.
- Think about a minimalist PC. A great guide for mac users, who also would like some minimalism power is macminimalist.
- Create one folder. This is essential! Having a specific location allows your brain to be free from remembering, where you’ve put that brilliant idea or nice picture. I have a folder on my desktop called “Drafts”. In this folder, I’ll put all files I use for an article (my article text file, any notes, any links that I save, any photos I might use, etc.). Having one folder allows you to focus on the task and not on searching. Once I have finished and published an article, I move the used files in another folder called “Finished”. You can of course also delete them, since the published files are on the internet. But I prefer backups.
1.3 Prepare Your Upcoming Articles
- Pre-write headlines. I collect all headlines, that come to my mind in a single text file called “headlines.txt”. Although I might not use it for my next blog post, collecting them is a great way to go for inspiration. What I also do is to create the headlines for my next 2-3 blog posts in advance. I even pick them, before I write anything about them. This allows my subconscious mind to work on it and stumble across links, articles, photos, without me needing to think about it. This is a powerful technique. So if I have my headline for the article already in a swipe file, I pick that one out and put it on top of the article file in my text editor.
- Collect & research. if you need to research, you should do it upfront and should put your notes and links also in the “Drafts”-Folder.
1.4 Prepare yourself
Preparing yourself is just as vital as is preparing your environment. You must be able to unclutter your brain for a while (just as you uncluttered your house).
Steps to do this:
- Learn meditation and relaxation.
- Take some deep, relaxing breaths.
- Make some quick notes (on paper or at least mental) what is fascinating about your topic. Creating fascination is one of the best ways to create focus on anything you want to achieve.
- Picture in your mind, how you would feel, once you have the article finished and published. Feel the satisfaction now and boil it up, so you can hardly hold yourself back from starting on it.
Step 2 – Write the First Draft
Now you’ve prepared yourself. You are sitting in a distraction free environment, with a super clean, stable computer and in front of an empty text document. How do you get those 1,000+ words onto it? It looks hard – but don’t worry, I’ll show you surefire ways to never get trapped by writer’s blog again.
2.1 Forget About Starting Your Story at the Beginning.
Countless authors never started a book, simply because they couldn’t figure out the first sentence. Trust me, a good beginning is sometimes the hardest part of writing an article. But you make it 1,000% harder, if you try to write it into empty space. The function of your first paragraphs is to be a bridge for the reader from your headline to your main content. And it is much harder to build a bridge, if one bank is missing.
Therefore, don’t force yourself to write the first sentences. Let them come to you later, when you’ve already written your main content.
2.2 Start With Just Some Ideas
Spill out some thoughts that come to your mind. If you already have a headline from your swipe file, great, then associate some words that come to your mind, and write them down. I started this article with the headline and the following keywords:
- mind mapping
- headline and picture associations
- distraction free environments – room & computer – minimalism
- modular building of an article – don’t start from beginning
- using flip charts or other graphical tools
- starting with headlines – swipe file
- prepare yourself
This took me about 5 minutes. You see the headline and these keywords, were already the first draft of the article. That was what I saved first.
There are some great tools for you to come up with key words and key concepts.
- Mind Mapping One of the best ways to get into the flow is to have a quick brainstorm. Just throwing some keywords into your mind and coming up with some associations is a great way to start with a basic structure draft. A great tool to use for this is the concept of mind mapping created by Tony Buzan.
- Keywords Association and Key Concepts List This is even more minimalist than mind mapping. It is the approach I used for this article. I just write down what comes to my mind, and let my mind create associations to the headline and the general idea of the article. Note, that I might not use all the keywords in the article.
- Drawing Devices Draw some concepts, draw structures. I often use a traditional flip chart or doodle something on a blank piece of paper. Writing on a flip chart allows me to look at it from over the table, and it also allows me to get up and add some more things. Hint: Sometimes just getting up and moving your body a bit can release a writing block and inject new inspiration into your creative flow.
With all these tools it is important not to censor yourself at this stage. Just write down what comes to your mind.
I would use about 5-10 minutes as a maximum for this stage.
Step 3 – Create a structure & fill the gaps
Now you have around 10-20 keywords or key concepts. But look closely at them. It maybe that you already have a structure. Try to come up with a rough structure for your article at this point. You see most articles aren’t read in the way you would read a novel. Most articles are first scanned by your readers. Therefore, having a good structure, using lists, headings and subheadings allows the reader not only to scan your content and dive into whatever interests him, it also allows you to write your content much faster. Because once you have a rough structure, you can focus your attention on writing just the content for one point of your structure.
For instance: I wrote down the keyword “mind mapping”. So I now only focus on writing some lines about this specific part. Maybe if it is a bigger part of the article, I also write some more keywords, focusing on mind mapping and then add meat to these keywords. You see, when you structure your article in an early stage, you won’t be overwhelmed. Break your task down into small steps and smaller sub-steps.
Hint: If I get stuck with a part of an article, I use the Keyword Association Method from above for this part of the article. I quickly write down all keywords that come to my mind for that part of the article for about 1 minute. This makes completing the rest is easy.
Step 4 – Edit
Now you have your
- structure (headings, lists and bold text)
- and main content
Now it’s time to form it into a smooth article.
- Read your entire article. Is there anything unclear? What could you write better? Read it aloud and listen to yourself. This will make you aware of sentences that don’t sound good.
- Is there something missing? Do you need to add any sentences to form a bridge between concepts?
- Create an intro. If you haven’t already done so, write an intro that bridges from your headline to your first paragraph.
- Do a spell and grammar check.
- Check for readability and scan-ability Is your article structured well? Does it have lots of lists and a good heading structure? Are important points bold? Can you get the gist of the article by scanning it?
Step 5 – Look for a quality picture
The good thing about starting with some keywords is, that it allows you also to find great pictures that go along well with your message. Look up photos at istockphoto or flickr using some of the keywords from your headline and your main headings.
Hint: Very often you’ll paint pictures or use stories in your article to transport your message. Find the keywords in these stories, and you know what to look for on flickr or istockphoto.
Step 6 – Publish & Party
Publish it. Send it to the world. And enjoy fame and stardom – or at least enjoy that some people will find your article interesting, and that you could help them with a problem.
Read more by Patrick on his blog Unwrap Your Mind.