How Long Should It Take To Write An Epic Post?

Write-An-Epic-Post

Do you spend enough time writing?

I’m not talking about tapping away on the keyboard. I’m talking about the number of hours you spend on any given post.

Here’s the problem: too many writers still believe they can whip out a post in an hour or two.

And you can do that, sure. But if you want to write really great posts that make other writers sigh with envy… you’ll want to read on.

You know that content on the web has improved. People who used to produce good content a few years ago are now producing excellent content. Some even call it epic content.

Here’s the catch: it takes a lot more time to write that kind of content than most people think.

When I began blogging, the point was to publish lots of content – the more you published, the better.

That content didn’t have to be epic… or even great. It had to be new. Newness was far more important than fine prose.

So you could whip out a post of about 500 words in 30 minutes or so, hit publish, and celebrate. It wasn’t bad content – but by today’s standards, it wasn’t very good.

Today hundreds of thousands of posts are published every day, and just posting something new isn’t enough. Readers have become discerning – picky, even. They want thoughtful, high-quality, informative, interesting, well-written content that makes them feel good.

Whew. No short order, that.

So exactly how long should it take to write an epic post?

Good question.

 

Concept Creation

 

Most pro writers I know have a list of ideas at the ready. A notebook, a stack of Post-Its, an Evernote folder – they jot down their thoughts each time they think, “That’d make a great post.”

It’s nearly impossible to come up with a good topic on the fly when you sit down to write. That’s a guaranteed shortcut to staring at the blank page.

But when you can flip through a list of a dozen ideas, you can usually start on something that strikes your fancy pretty quickly.

Don’t underestimate the importance of allotting time for concept creation – taking a few hours to brainstorm with yourself, or going for a walk so that inspiration can strike you when you’re feeling relaxed and refreshed.

Create a method for capturing ideas. Those little two-minute moments where you scribble down an idea are some of the smartest time investments you can make. They make the writing process infinitely easier.

 

Outlines and First Drafts

 

Many writers scoff at first drafts. They believe they have magical skills and trust their content to be good right out of the gate.

But seasoned writers know that this isn’t true. They can, and do, sometimes create such great first drafts that they don’t have to do much more than give it a bit of a polish, but that’s the exception, not the norm.

How long should a first draft take? As long as it takes to get your ideas out of your head and onto paper, without editing along the way. If you have an outline to work with, it’ll go a bit faster, but for a decent brain splatter on the page, you’re looking at about an hour, maybe two, on average.

 

Research and Fact-checking

 

After your draft is written, you may realize that the piece could be shored up by quoting a study, or giving hard numbers. Maybe you wrote something you’re pretty confident is true, but you haven’t actually checked to make sure.

Facts make good writing better. They tell your reader that your opinion is backed by real data, that you aren’t simply being a pundit or telling a story from your perspective. You’re telling a story that can be objectively verified.

At the beginning of this piece, I told you that hundreds of thousands of posts were created every day. That’s data I got from checking out WordPress stats on the number of blogs started on their platform every day (that’s 100,000 right there). I also checked out other platforms with a high number of users (SquareSpace, Typepad, Tumblr, etc.) and extrapolated from there.

Now, the internet’s a bit of a rabbit hole, so once you start researching, you may find yourself checking out site after site and link after link, probably getting random cool information you weren’t looking for, like whether you really can see a million stars at night. (You can’t. 2,000 to 2,500 at best.)

My point: You can lose a lot of time doing “research.” So your investment will depend on how easily distracted you are, and how much data you need to make your point.

I asked around, and found that the average time spent in research and fact-checking comes to about 15 minutes to an hour per post, depending on what you’re writing.

 

Second (and Third and Fourth) Drafts

 

There’s no first draft out there that wasn’t made better by a second draft.

When you write a second draft, your brain’s had more time to organize its thoughts. Your eyes have had a little time to identify awkward sentences and weird transitions. You’ve had a few minutes to reflect on other relevant experiences or information you might weave in to good effect.

First drafts are smart. Second drafts are even better.

So how long should that second draft take?

This is where things get really interesting.

I asked my peers about the longest they’ve ever spent on a post, and the responses were… all over the place, really. Here are a few:

“Two weeks of working on it around the clock.”

“Eight months, off and on. It was a hard one.”

“Three months of constant emailing and calling people to get all the information.”

“Sixteen drafts. I counted.”

The longest I’ve ever spent on a post was about three months, and it took six drafts from me and a few extra ones from one of my copywriters. It was intense.

Typically, the average time is significantly lower – most say that writing a quality post might take 3 to 5 hours of rewrites, not all of them at once. They’ll write a draft one evening, revisit it the next day, and then again the day after that.

Plus, you have to keep in mind that these are pro writers. Their typing speed is right up there with Superman’s.

The point is that you can’t really measure how long it takes to write anything… and that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others. Some posts simply take a long time to get right.

You should give them that time – because the response can be staggering.

The friend who took eight months to write a post? It was an inspirational post about his struggle with a debilitating disease, and it was incredible. It remains the most-shared post on a wildly popular site, and netted hundreds of comments and thousands of shares. It’s still the post he’s most proud of.

Obviously, he didn’t spend the entire eight months writing that post. He needed time in between to let it percolate. But he kept coming back and working away at it until it was as right as it needed to be.

Time for second and third and fourth drafts: as long as it takes.

 

That’s the real lesson here. If you have something to communicate, and if you want to do a good job, put in the time to make it worth reading. It may take less time than you think. It may take more. It may take a lot more.

No matter. You’re giving yourself the time you need to write a great piece… and the response will definitely be worth it.

Have your time investments brought you better results?

Share your thoughts in the comments so we can all see that no one needs to race their way through anything!

 

About the author:

James Chartrand is a Top Ten blogger and an advocate for stress-free writing that gets results. Learn how to write content that really works, build rapport with readers, and fill your magical hat with money with the Damn Fine Words writing course for business owners. It’s Write to Done approved!

Image: It takes time courtesy of Bigstockphoto

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62 thoughts on “How Long Should It Take To Write An Epic Post?”

  • This is a well-timed post for me…tomorrow I’m putting up the longest and most researched post I’ve ever done for my blog! I think it’s upwards of 3000 words and I’ve done about a dozen interviews for it.

    The thing a lot of bloggers don’t realize is you can stand out with your blog by delivering more valuable and in-depth information. This happens to be on a topic that *needed* to be looked into, and I was just the person to do it. I know it’s going to be a huge conversation topic in the writer community, and though it took a LOT of time, I consider it totally worth it.

    Long posts are great reputation-builders. Many of my previous long posts have ended up in my “most popular” of all time.

    • Sean says:

      As a practical matter, how does a writer make enough money to justify this sort of time investment? You say that $25/hour isn’t sustainable, but this would presumably pay a fraction of that if it’s for a client. Could you iron that out for me, please?

      • Cath says:

        I also have this dilemma. A client generally won’t pay for more than two hours work for a 500 word post/article and expects some pretty good (SEO optimised) content for that. I spend at least four hours to get it just right, so am working for less than half my usual rate. I’m hoping I will get faster or more efficient!

        Spending the time on your own posts is quite a different matter as this is an important investment in self-promotion.

      • I think the best way to answer this question is to turn it around and look at it from an accountant’s point of view, considering the price to charge versus the cost of goods sold – what would a writer need to charge to compensate for the time investment, skill level and experience that goes into a great guest post?

        It’s like a restaurant meal – there’s a cost associated to the chicken, cream, red pepper and pasta for the dish, an associated cost for the cook to prepare the meal and the waiter to serve it, and overhead costs of keeping the restaurant open. When restaurants calculate that out, they come to a monetary amount – say, it costs the restaurant $7 to produce that meal.

        Then they decide how much profit they want to make so they can know what to charge on the menu. If they want to make $3 profit per plate, the menu says that the pasta-chicken dish costs $10.

        Content is the same, and I think you’ll see it makes more sense to charge clients a rate that compensates for the time-cost that goes into writing a good post, versus letting clients dictate rates for you!

  • Wow, it’s so good to read how long it takes other writers to write a blog posts. It also takes me 3-5 hours, including taking screen shots, adding links, making revisions, and proofreading. I’m not a really fast typist (40-50wpm), and I try to automate as many tasks as I can, but I can rarely get an 800+ article done in under 2 hours.

  • John Yeoman says:

    Absolutely right, James. It takes me at least a day to draft a post, then a further day to edit it and – if it’s a guest post – several hours to handle all the admin of placing it with a chosen site. A top lawyer could earn $2000 for that investment of time so I need to know that my post will bring me back at least $2000, in notional value, in terms of sign-ups to my list. It took me three years of guest posting – 80 posts a year – to attain that. Now, I don’t blog unless I know a given post will earn me that, or a lot more. And it always does.

    I’ve just read a writing guru who says we should blog every day. Why? To placate Google spiders. They love frequent posts, he says. He’s a very nice man, but he’s wasting his life, placating Google spiders. A great post takes a lot of time to write, but it should also yield us a great return upon our time invested.

    • Yeah, you’ve got the ticket, John – writing is an investment, and always should be. Could be a time investment to achieve money goals, could be an effort investment to achieve pleasure goals… could be any kind of investment, and it’ll always achieve a goal.

      That in itself says it all: investment, by its very definition, means putting something IN… not trying to cut it out!

    • Shannon Ferguson says:

      I like that.

  • Marcy McKay says:

    Perfect timing on this post for me, James. I’ve just start guest posting and totally want to be EPIC. Thanks for your help. QUESTION: about how many posts do YOU write each week? 🙂

    • Good question, and I’ll assume you mean writing for my own blog or marketing needs, yes?

      If we take the MenwithPens blog as an example, I take approximately 2 to 3 weeks to write one post for there – though keep in mind I have lots of other things going on at the same time and am writing approximately 5 hours per day, in general and overall.

      On a per-post basis, it’s pretty rare for me to invest less than 5 to 8 hours on an “average” (for these days) post. Any less and I’m the one feeling like I could’ve done better! (Any more and I’ve just done something ‘epic’ that I’m proud of.)

      • Marcy McKay says:

        Thanks so much for telling me that, James. I’ve written four novels, but am new to blogging. It also takes me about 5-8 hours to write each post, though I’M TRYING to get faster! Great info.

      • Cath says:

        You’ve obviously hit on a common nerve with your post! Good writing takes time but no one wants to feel that they are ‘a bit slow’! Being paid by the hour to write creates a problem. After reading all the comments I feel much more comfortable charging $X but taking Yhours to produce a piece I’m proud of. Not sure if this is viable from a business sense but will assess longer term.

  • Steve Maurer says:

    James,

    Thank you so much for this article. Sometimes I’ve felt bad about taking so long to write a post. At times, I thought I was being picky. Not anymore.

    I have noticed that the more quality time I spend on an article, the more “sticky” it is. I labored on one for a client for over a week, finishing up just at the deadline. That post went live in March an is still drawing interest (and new comments) all over LinkedIn.

    And I did pick up some great clients from it as well.

    I really enjoyed the comments Carol Tice made too. She is so right when she said that our blogs are our reputation builders.

    Thanks again, both James and Carol. You ladies are great examples and mentors.
    Steve

    • You’re quite welcome, Steve, and I’m glad you’re seeing results from being ‘picky’! (You’re only being truly picky when you want it ‘perfect’ or keep editing incessantly and never publishing… sounds like that’s totally not the case here, so good on you!)

      • Steve Maurer says:

        Thanks for your comment, James!

        For me, the first draft is a “free write” where I put everything down that comes to mind.
        The edits are for deleting the stuff that should have stayed in my head!

        And as for the economics question, I think folks should consider this idea.

        Sure, the post I mentioned did take awhile to “birth.” It was for a client that I blog for twice a month. And yes, if I break down the fee, I probably worked for minimum wage. However . . . . . .

        I got several inquiries on my services from that single post from businesses who read it on the site (tapping into their audience base).

        And one of them turned into a $3,000 website rewrite job.

        Blog posts are awfully good PR and advertising clips for your services and expertise.

        Or awfully bad ones.

        Your choice!

  • Galen says:

    This is just what I needed to hear. A good friend also recently told me that when I sit down to write, all I need to think about is creating that terrible first draft.

    So many people freeze when it comes time to actually put their thoughts on paper because we all want it to be perfect the first time. But it doesn’t have to be.

    Every good writer has a bad first draft more often than not.

    • That’s a super-important point, Galen. In the DFW writing course, students are always surprised that I want to see absolutely sh**tty first drafts… and that I actually encourage them NOT to edit. Ever.

      It’s tough for many students to get used to seeing typos and awkward sentences, but they soon see the value of first drafts – that’s where you just get stuff out of your head onto paper so that you can say, “Alright, NOW what do I do with this?”

      🙂

  • Stan Rosen says:

    James,

    Your article is extremely helpful. Right now I am stewing over an article, wondering often am I taking too much time with my research, organizing my thoughts, creating an outline. Am I too slow. Sometimes I think should I be a writer.
    Because of your fine article, you have taking the pressure off me so that I can enjoy my work and not to worry how long it takes. Thank you!

    • I’m so glad to hear that, Stan. I think the question, “Am I too slow a writer?” should be completely banned and eradicated from all our language, because speed isn’t what’s important – telling your story, getting the message out, and making sure people receive what you want to say is.

      After all, it isn’t a case of, “How fast can I tell you this message?” It’s definitely a case of, “Let me take my time and make sure that you understand this message, because I feel it’s important.”

      Boom!

  • Lori Schafer says:

    This is a relief! Even a short post typically takes me a couple of hours, whereas a long one might take four or five. And yes, there are many where I write a first draft, tuck it away for a while, and then go back to it later – sometimes months later. Glad to hear this isn’t abnormal, and is maybe even preferable.

    I do, however, think Sean and Cath make good points on the economics of this. Whether you’re working for yourself or someone else, you’re investing a lot of unpaid time to raise the quality of your work from good to great. Let’s hope that in the long run, it’s an investment that pays off.

    • Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was any business. 🙂 Taking the time to build your business slowly, with smart investments (of both time and money) absolutely does pay off in the long run by creating a very solid foundation on which you CAN build on.

      Rushed work never gives good results, after all.

      So absolutely take the time you need, even if it means setting work aside to come back to it a few months (or years!) later. That’s perfectly normal, and probably a lot more common than you think!

  • Wow! Thank you James.

    It’s nice to know I’m not as slow as I thought I was. I regularly take days to write my articles and blogs, for the reasons you mention… research; and getting the feeling of it just right.

    Business on the internet LOVES speed, or so I have been taught, and I always felt that I was too slow. You have restored my faith in quality over quantity of posts. Blessings to you!

    • Bah, I’m so done with the internet loving speed. I think we achieve far better thought processes, quality of work and clarity of message when we all slow down and take life at a far more normal pace. Way better, don’t you agree?

      • Definitely! Feeling rushed and stressed doesn’t aid creativity, BUT when people are waiting for information, and weeks go by without fulfilling their needs, they leave and don’t come back. Feeling anxious to please the reader doesn’t help creativity either, though. How do you get around this? I guess there’s a balance between taking your time and giving people the content they’re looking for.
        Cheers
        Jenny

        • I think pleasing a reader is a secondary goal – please yourself first and foremost!

          For sure, you WANT people to enjoy your work and be pleased by what they read… but ultimately, YOU being pleased first matters a heckufalot more.

  • Susan Scott says:

    Thanks James. Informative and re-assuring for me. I thought I was the ‘only one’ who took forever on a post. Time well spent on drafting a few times and as you say, allowing it to percolate, is time well spent.

  • I have written numerous posts, and they are all generally quite lengthy. I’m a perfectionist, too, and so it takes me a ton of time perfecting them. The funny thing I have noticed is that my top-performing posts are those that are written: 1. without SEO in mind; 2. from a personal perspective; and 3. honestly.

    Many have hit the number one slot in Search, too. Most of these have happened “by fluke.” As a new blogger (last year), I didn’t worry about SEO or what Google spiders think or do, and I even think my nescience worked in my favour!

    It’s tough to please everyone, and the key truly is writing in a conversational, educational manner and including personal experience(s) in your posts.

    • That’s fantastic, Lorraine! I love that you’ve already figured out that spending time on a post is time well spent (to steal Susan’s line – it was a good one!)

      The only caution I’d extend to other writers is to make sure that perfectionism doesn’t get in the way of getting the work out there. Nothing can ever be perfect, and it’s important to keep “good enough” in mind… even for epic content. After all, at some point the tinkering needs to move forward to publishing, right?

      • Yes, it does. You can edit and edit and edit until you are blue in the face, and still there will be yet another way of saying something!

        I have learned that my perfectionism is both a hindrance and a help. Because I am not a fast writer when it comes to writing on the computer, I tend to edit as I write (I hate typos) but the problem with this is that it often takes me a lot longer to write something. However, if I am writing by hand, things get done a lot faster.

        I have been trying to make some changes in how I write and use my laptop instead of paper (to save the environment and adapt to the digital age). It’s working for me to a point, but it does take a lot longer to get things done.

  • I appreciate your valuable perspective on what’s effective in the blogosphere now. I trust your views because I know you’ve been around for a while and have seen the changing trends

    It often takes me about 4 hours or more to write a post, but it might not qualify as “epic.” Still, I put in the time and my heart and soul, and they seem to speak strongly to my readers. At the same time, sometimes a short post (4-500) words just flows out and ends up being a powerful one that speaks directly to people as well.

    So I don’t confine myself to one length, but generally write longer posts. And, they take time just as you say. I think this also depends on your niche though. It’s more appropriate for someone writing on simplicity to share shorter posts, for example.

    • Aw, thanks, Sandra – it’s nice to hear from someone who’s been a reader for a long time!

      Just between you and me (and anyone else reading these comments), “epic” is a standard of quality that I firmly believe is an impossible level to reach, and writers honestly shouldn’t ever aim to reach it. Trying to do so on a consistent basis is a fast track to writer’s block… because 98% of the time, most of the post we’ll write don’t even come close to epic, and that’s okay too.

      The other problem with “epic” is that if it seriously gains a good foothold in people’s perceptions, writers will quickly discover that when they bust themselves trying to eke out more “epic”… the catchphrase will be done and over, and some new and even more unrealistic level will crop up. After all, we went from “great content” to “brilliant content” to “stellar content” and now “epic content”… hell, what’s next?

  • Kostas says:

    Hey James, great tips here. I think one of the things that lets bloggers down in terms of the quality of thier content is poor planning. Your tips show that while we need to plan our content, it needn’t take too long if we stay focused.

    • My word, YES! (No pun intended.) Poor planning leads to poor content, and a little bit of time spent in that crucial phase can actually do worlds of wonders. I should’ve added “planning” to this post, come to think of it!

  • Beth Havey says:

    Great post, James. Every piece a writer plans to publish, whether it’s a blog post or an article that will cover the
    front page of the NY Times or a major magazine, should be written following your careful steps.
    After all, your name will be on it and everything you write, everything I write, must represent the best that
    we can do.

    Thanks.

    • That’s true. Even if I were to riff off some random bit of useless copy for a paper that’ll get tacked to a telephone pole, I wouldn’t want people to read it and say, “Man, who wrote THIS? It’s terrible!” 🙂 We writers have our pride, eh!

  • Great post James.

    Writers never really finish anything, they just run out of time.

    I find it’s best to write a first draft, polish it and then stick in a digital or physical drawer for a week or two.

    Then, you can return to it with fresh eyes, take out your cliches and rework it. Only then does your post form into something more usable and readable.

    Kill your darlings and all that.

    • Now that’s a quote worth hanging over our desks, eh? I love the implication that there IS an end and a time to stop, and that whatever we have at that point is good enough to go… and I also love that good writers know to put their best into the time they do have. Double win.

  • Wow! I wish every single one of my clients would read this. Most of them are still living back in the days when newness was the goal and they believe that I can create epic posts in an hour or so. They are so wrong and it can be hard to convince them otherwise.

    I also loved the part about the need for an epic post to percolate. My best posts start as ideas that I carry around in my head for weeks (sometimes longer).

    Thanks for setting the record straight on this. 🙂

    • Ha! After I wrote this, I toyed with the idea of writing a similar piece to educate clients… I know you know exactly how many people say, “Oh, this should only take you 20 minutes or so.”

      Mmhm. Cuz writers are mysteriously magical that way, y’know. 😉

      • LOL,

        Yes. Give me some of that mysterious writer magic. 😉

        I think the problem is that the ones who need to read it the most wouldn’t look at it.

  • slamdunk says:

    Thanks for giving us a realistic view of what is required of good blogging, James. I think there are plenty of misconceptions out there, and articles like this help to clarify.

    And depending on the content that the author chooses, the research time can really add-up. When I tackle missing persons or cold cases, I strive to get everything right. Doing so, takes seemingly forever. There is no substitute for good quality control–diligence and being meticulous should rule.

    • I think having a good framework that you can reuse comes in handy on trimming down research time. After a while, when you’ve been doing the same sort of work, you can build yourself a cheat sheet of the crucial info you need.

      Pull that sheet out when you start a new info case, and just fill in the blanks. The research is done faster, and in a more organized way than trying to remember it all for each new case!

  • Even after toting an idea around in my head for quite some time, writing the post and looking at it again later, I still need to sleep on it to make sure it’s just perfect.

    Unfortunately, I don’t usually do that for my own… just my clients. 😉

    High-five to you for writing this one. A lot of people don’t really get what goes into it!

    • I can see that, actually – some people are more comfortable with their own work and feel freer with it, so they tend to put all the “make sure this is good” on the client side of things.

      High fives back. It was definitely a post worth writing!

  • I think I break all the rules here. I USED to plan my blog posts, keep drafts, and make a list of topics and ideas to refer to (just in case I ever run out!). This year, I’ve ditched that.

    NOW, when I have an idea, I blog about it on the same day whilst it’s fresh in my mind and alive. I’ve capture that energy and enthusiasm for the topic and put it into my post as soon as possible. I get it down and get it out there ASAP!

    I’ve gone from scheduling and planning to being free and impulsive. Quite a change.

    What’s happening is that I am enjoying blogging even more, but also my audience is noticing the change. They are sharing more of my content and even commenting that they like the way I’m blogging now. Some have noticed the change but they can’t quite put their finger on it. The upshot is, it seems to be a great move all round and one I am definitely going to continue! 🙂

  • PaulJosaph says:

    Great post James!. I prefer step by step guide blog posts since they are easier to organize and readers find them easier to read.

  • Peggy Nolan says:

    Hi James,

    Great article here! I used to be one of those bloggers who could whip out a 500-1000 blog post in about 30 minutes. And you’re right. They weren’t great or even close to epic articles. These, I’m taking my time. Quality over quantity. My posts are longer and I space them out every two weeks. this gives me time to 1) write quality and 2) promote them.

    Have a fab day!
    Peggy

  • Kevin Duncan says:

    James,

    It’s refreshing to read a post telling it like it is: yes, if you want to write an epic post, it’s going to take a while!

    I’ve read too many posts lately touting tips for “blogging faster.” One talked of writing a 1,500-word post in 30 minutes. I’m sure it’s POSSIBLE to write a post of such a length in half an hour, but I wouldn’t want to read it. Thirty minutes isn’t even enough time to properly edit the thing!

    Great points here. Great job!

  • I’m wanting to look at blogs containing music I like, but sifting through all the detached, outdated and crap blogs is a hassle. . I know there are thousands of blogs, is there a good resource to seek out the preferred ones?.

  • Sam Edge says:

    I know I am posting late here but I was very happy to read this. I hear people talking about writing allocating 2 hours n the morning to write a 2,000 words and that is what it means when they say “a writer writes”

    For me writing is process or ideas, outlines, drafts and revisions. For me to write a 600 – 800 word blog post it takes 4 – 6 hours, that assumes I have an idea to start with. I don’t do the first draft in stream-of-conscience writing that many recommend. This is a good method if your brain works that way. For me I can’t help editing as I go. Then I do a second and third draft right away where I try to omit any needless words and create clear readable prose. This is followed by a proofread by my wife. The final draft can take a couple of hours as I add links, pictures and fiddle with things like tense, voice, tone and so on.

    It’s always best if I can leave in for a day and do a final, final draft after sleeping on it.

    Regardless I think these folks who post 500 words posts in 30 minutes send a misleading message. If you can write that fast and not sacrifice quality – good for you. I think most of us find it takes more time and effort than that.

  • Sam Edge says:

    ## Should have proof read that previous post one more time. 🙂

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  • vipit says:

    What information technologies could we use to make it easier to keep track of when new blog posts were made and which blog posts we had read and which we haven’t read? Please be precise.

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