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?
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!