What’s your process?
I hate the question. Hate it. To me, when a prospective client asks me, “what’s your process?” I feel like I’m answering the freelancing equivalent of “Where would you like to be in five years?”
Truth be told, I don’t have a process. Some projects require research, in which case I’ll do preliminary research, then begin to write. In those cases, I’ll fill in the blanks as I go along.
Other projects require little research at all. In those instances, I’ll just sit down and write until it’s done.
I’m blessed to have a very linear way of thinking. I’ve always been able to clearly see a beginning, a middle and an end when I write – that’s been true since grade school.
That may not be true for you, and that’s okay! Everyone has a different process. You’ll just need to find yours.
If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few ways you can create quality content as you find your own rhythm. If you find that something works for you, great! Stick with it! If you try a method and it’s just not your thing, no problem. Scrap the method and try another.
There are no wrong answers, and there’s no wrong way to produce quality content. Just keep trying until you find something suitable to your writing style, and go with it!
The first method, which I use about a dozen times a day, is just to write. Nine times out of ten, I’ve already got a topic. Sometimes there will be specific links I’ll need to incorporate, which means my writing will center around (or just include) a bit of anchor text.
But no matter what the topic, I find it easiest to simply sit down at the Mac and start to type. I’ve found that as I do so, the thoughts continue to flow. Gradually, I’ll begin to see where those thoughts are leading me, and the end result is a logically organized story.
After I’ve written the piece, I’ll go back and edit. I type quickly – around 85 words per minute. But sometimes my brain moves faster than my fingers, and I’ll catch sentences which don’t exactly make sense.
Spelling, grammar, content and quality are all under consideration during the editing phase. So are redundant words. I tend to write like I talk, and sometimes I’ll repeat myself. (Much to the chagrin of my family, I do it in real life, too.)
Everything look good? Good! Send!
Use an Outline
This works best for content – you’ll have a hard time outlining a resume or a press release. It’s possible, though.
Once you’ve got your topic in hand, it’s time to build a very simple outline. You’ll do this just as you did in high school. Three or four main points, then sub-points which fall under those categories. Be careful to add a short introduction, but be aware that not all clients will like a “conclusion.” Some clients find that a recap of what you’ve written in the article is fluff and unnecessary.
Then, you’ll write. Take your outline step by step. If you need to change a few things as you go, no problem. Just having the outline there by your side will help you to organize your thoughts. You may be the type who needs an outline to maintain a flow in your writing.
Store Your Thoughts
Some of the best writers have thoughts which move more quickly than they can write. If this is you, you have options.
First, you can keep a stack of index cards on your desk. I use a notebook when my brain goes on vacation for the day. There’s nothing like a good old dollar notebook.
Jot down each of your thoughts as they come to you. Take a few minutes to do this before you begin to write, and the actual writing will be much simpler.
Once you think you’ve got all those thoughts written out, organize them. That’s the beauty of index cards. You can shuffle them every which way, or even post them up in a logical order on a bulletin board.
Time to write. Using the thoughts that you’ve organized, you’ll be able to better visualize a beginning, middle and end to your piece. The story will form, and even if you need to add bits and pieces to it, your writing will be much more logical.
Research, Then Write
I was once tasked with writing 10,000 words on the Enfield haunting. And while I’m a huge fan of supernatural stuff, I knew nothing about it. So I took a day off.
I watched the Enfield Haunting movie on Hulu. I read up on the haunting. I researched Janet Hodgson, Bill Wilkins, Ed and Lorraine Warren and Guy Lyon Playfair. Within a day, I was not only a self-proclaimed expert on the story, but I had a very clear mental visual of where I wanted to go with the piece. If you’re curious, you can see it at this link.
As I mentioned, I don’t typically research too much first. I research as I go – I call it a Wiki-train. One discovered fact leads to the research of another. Then another. As I write, I develop a clearer understanding of the subject I’m writing about.
You may be the type who would rather know more about the subject before delving into writing. That’s perfectly okay! I would only caution you this: be careful not to spend too much time in research. Those are valuable hours which could be earning you money.
Find Your Process – And Screw Everyone Else
Any of these methods may work for you. Or none of them will. There’s no right way to write. What matters is that the content you deliver is consistently high quality. Keep playing around with different methods until you find the writing process which works best for you. Once you find that process, you’ll develop a rhythm which makes your day to day writing projects that much easier.