No Time? 4 Ways to Beat the Writing Clock

Try these 4 productivity hacks to beat the writing clock!

Try these 4 productivity hacks to beat the writing clock!

As an online writer, you’re probably familiar with at least one of these scenarios: Oh no (or expletive of choice)! I only have 30 minutes to get this blog post written… or, I need to come up with at least 10 blog topics for this month’s editorial calendar, but my brain is drained… or, I want to get to my own writing project, but I have no time… or, I am stuck in writer’s block hell

Whether you’re a “newbie” or veteran copywriter, you’ll face a few of these challenges in your career, and likely more than once. With that in mind, here are four productivity hacks from Heather to help you meet your deadlines, make progress with your own writing projects, conjure creative blog ideas, save precious time…and keep your sanity!

5 Weird Writing Productivity Hacks That Work

 

Heather starts out by asking: “Do you feel burned out and brain dead after a full day of writing?”

Drawing on her own experience, she then shares five time- and sanity-saving tips that are “a little weird” to help you recoup your writing mojo:

  1. Chart your writing rhythms
  2. Limit your writing time
  3. The five minute brainstorm technique
  4. Wear different hats (literally)
  5. The two minute trick

Do you have any of your own weird ways of keeping the creative writing juices flowing? Please share them with us!

How to Generate 3,640 Blog Post Ideas in 12 Months

Sounds over the top, doesn’t it? But it really isn’t.

Heather writes that she borrowed the idea from James Altrucher, who recommends writers to exercise their “idea muscle” each day by selecting a topic and then jotting down ten (or more) ideas – whether good or mediocre, no matter. The goal is to simply get them written down.

She confides: “This tip changed my life.”

It can change yours, too! Heather shares her step-by-step process for capturing blog post ideas that fleshes out her editorial calendar, and shares her favorite tools for assistance when it’s needed.

How to Write a Killer Blog Post in 30 Minutes or Less

Need to write up a quick and dirty blog post?

Heather writes that while she’s not a fan of super-fast writing, there are times (i.e., imminent deadlines) when it’s required. And while it won’t be your best work, it will suffice.

The process she shares covers what to do before you begin, after you start writing, and when you finish.

Some key takeaways include:

  • As a bare-minimum guide, give yourself at least five minutes to plan and outline your post, 20 minutes to write it and five minutes to proof and tweak.
  • Keep your inner Web writing editor at bay.
  • Always proof your work. Always.

Achieve Your Writing Dream in Just 25 Minutes A Day

Heather begins by asking: “What’s your writing dream?”

Perhaps it’s a book in your back pocket that you can’t seem to get around to actually writing? Or perhaps an idea for an online course that takes a back seat to work priorities? Or maybe you’re just too overwhelmed to write “just for fun”.

She then shares her experience about wanting to write a book about SEO copywriting in the mid-2000’s that she was excited about, but found herself stuck.

Through much trial and error – “either working too hard and burning out, or procrastinating and feeling guilty” — she found how to get her writing groove back! She outlines her simple 2-step process and discusses the reasons why she thinks it works.

What say you? Any productivity hacks you’d like to share? Please do in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Have You Heard of These 5 Ways to Generate Blog Post Ideas?

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Need blog post ideas? Try these tips!

Let’s face it. Magically coming up with blog post ideas is grueling. Sure, you can schedule time to brainstorm post ideas (here’s how to generate over 3,000 a year!). But what about those days when the ideas don’t come, you’re on deadline, and you feel like you’ve written it all before?

Don’t get stuck – get inspired, instead! Here are 5 ways you can generate blog post ideas.

Portent’s Content Idea Generator

How could I have not written about this gem before? This tool is brought to you by the good folks at Portent, run by Ian Lurie (if you don’t follow Ian Lurie, do it now. You’re in for a snarky treat.)

Simply type in your general post idea and let the Content Idea Generator do all the work. For instance, I typed in one of the most boring topics I could dream up: screw compressors. Years ago, I used to handle the marketing for a company that made flash freezers for fishing boats. I often had to  come up with sexy press angles about screw compressors.

Yes. Pity me.

Here’s what the Idea Generator came up with:

Content Idea Generator

The verdict? Not bad. If you’re in an industry that makes, needs or sells screw compressors, you could easily come up with a list of 18 things. Well done, Content Idea Generator!

Use forums for fun and profit

Some people think forums are old school. I mean, aren’t all the cool kids hanging out on Google + now (OK, OK…I had to make that joke.) Seriously, it’s amazing how many people forget about forums as great idea generators. Plus, all you need to do is some quick Google searches to make it happen.

Simply type [forum:your topic] into Google and see what comes up. In this case, I used the search term [food cart]. Us Portlanders really love our food carts.

 

forum_food_cart_-_Google_Search

Voila! You’re rewarded with a plethora of post ideas! If this is too overwhelming, you can search inside the forums. Try using search terms like:

  • I hate it when
  • can’t find
  • need advice
  • question about
  • can anyone help me

(H/T to Pat Flynn from the Smart Passive Income blog for the search terms tip.)

Check out industry conference topics

Conference organizers spend hours figuring out the best session topics for their events. Why? Because they know the right session topics (read: the ones that people want to know about) will drive ticket sales. Plus, many conferences now crowdsource their session ideas and ask people to vote on their favorites – virtually guaranteeing that the topics are spot-on.

For instance, sensory deprivation float tanks are all the rage right now (heck, I was even interviewed for a piece in The Nation about float tanks!) The float industry has an annual conference held in Portland, OR for float enthusiasts, float tank center owners and people in the industry. One of the days is an intensive workshop geared towards owners:

Float_Center_Workshop

This page alone provides scads of blog post ideas, from, “how to soundproof your float tank room” to “how to use social media to promote your float business.” If you’re stuck for topic ideas, conference pages will shake loose some great ideas.

As a side note, I’ve never read any other post discussing this tip (although one may be out there.) So, by using it, you may have an inside track on your competition. You’re welcome.

Webinar Q & A sessions

Here’s another idea I’m surprised isn’t utilized more. You know how you’re tempted to boogie out of a webinar session when the Q & A kicks in? Yes, I know you have things to do, and you’ve already learned what you want to learn…

…but by walking away from the Q & A, you’re missing out on a bevy of blog post ideas.

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Think about it. People in your target audience are asking questions. Some (if not most) of those questions could turn into a blog post idea. Heck, you could even write the title like a headline, for instance, “How can I find float tank regulations for my city?” That’s SEO copy gold, baby!

Plus, if you include the webinar presenter’s answer in your blog post, you can send them a note and let them know you cited her. BOOM, now an influencer may tweet your post to the masses.

You can use this blog post idea hack during conferences, too. While other people are filing out of the room, you can smile knowing you have enough blog post fodder to last you for a long time.

Podcasts

“I don’t have time to listen to podcasts!” I get it. I love the idea of podcasts, but I don’t always have the 10-20 minutes to listen to them. Fortunately, this tip is less about listening to a podcast (although you certainly can) and more about learning from their descriptions.

For instance, Jeff Goins includes show highlights on his site (where you can also listen to his podcast.) Just look at all these tasty topics:

How_to_Write_Fiction_for_a_Living_with_Stacy_Claflin

Look – there are 11 bullet points you could transform into a meaty blog post! What are you waiting for? You should start writing right now!

Granted, not all podcasters post their talking points on their blog. In that case, even checking out iTunes provides some good information. Do a keyword search for what you want to know more about and check out the podcasts that come back. For instance, if I search for [make money blogging], the ProBlogger Podcast pops up. Here’s a screen shot:

Podcast

If the podcast titles don’t birth a brainstorm, the podcast descriptions will. Just hover over the “information” button in iTunes to get the scoop.

Plus, this technique is a great way to find podcasting influencers you may not have heard of before. I hadn’t heard of some of the [make money blogging] podcasters that iTunes returned – but now they’re on my radar.

Blogging day in and day out can be a chore. Hopefully, these five tips will help expand your topic horizons and make the generating blog idea process a little less painful.

Inspired? Let me know in the comments! Or, feel free to post a tip. I’d love to read it!

 

Achieve Your Writing Dream in Just 25 Minutes A Day

What’s your writing dream?

Do you want to write a book, but you have no idea how you’d find the time?

What could you accomplish in just 25 minutes a day?

What could you accomplish in just 25 minutes a day?

Do you have a great idea for an online course, but work priorities keep putting it on the back burner?

Have you wanted to write just for fun, but you’re too overwhelmed to start?

Read more

How I Beat Writer’s Block By Interviewing Myself

This is me, happy that I beat writer’s block.

I have a confession.

You know those tasks you put on your to-do list — but you never do them? You keep carrying them over day after day thinking, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”

For the last few months, I’ve been sitting slack-jawed in front of my laptop every time I tried to start a writing project. I’d write a few words, hate them all and put it off for another day.

The project? My “About Us” bio page.

The bio I had was…OK. It did what it did to do, but I felt that it didn’t have much pizzaz. Nor did it reflect my personality. It was mechanically correct, but flat from a copywriting perspective.

Never was that issue so in my face than when I redesigned the site. When I asked people to review it, one of the top comments was, “You don’t really showcase who you are or what you’ve done. You’re an expert. You need to put that front and center.”

Sadly, I knew they were right.

Read more

5 Weird Writing Productivity Hacks That Work

How much more copy could you write with these productivity hacks?

Do you feel burned out and brain dead after a full day of writing?

Heavy writing days used to exhaust me. My brain felt like mush. I could barely talk. Exercise was out of the question. All I wanted to do is sit in front of the television and force my brain to stop thinking.

You’ve probably had days like that, too.

I’ve learned some great time (and sanity saving) writing hacks over the years. And I no longer feel like my brain is going to explode at the end of the day.

But yeah, these tips are a little weird.

Here are five of my favorites:

Chart your writing rhythms

Your writing brain doesn’t click along at peak capacity 24/7. To leverage this hack, simply notice when your brain is on and your creative juices are flowing. For me, I can write a 500 word blog draft in about 15 minutes between 7-10am. Between 3-5pm, I’ll stare slack-jawed at my laptop and check Facebook every few minutes.

Chart your own writing rhythms and notice the patterns. Then, give yourself permission to write only during your peak times. Yes, you will feel guilty if you’re not writing during your “off” times, but get over it. Let the process work.

Limit your writing time

Are you used to long, ultra marathon-like stretches of writing? You may get a lot done during a 10 hour write-a-thon, but it often has a heavy cost. Instead, break your writing time into 25-minute chunks. This technique, called the Pomodoro Technique, forces you to focus 100% on a task for less than 30 minutes. At the end of the 30 minutes, you’d take a short break and let your brain rest. Chris Winfield discusses his success with the Pomodoro Technique here.

Some people worry that 25 minutes isn’t enough time and they’d feel rushed. For me, it’s the exact opposite. I love to see how much writing I can accomplish in a 25 minute block of time. Plus, the Pomodoro Technique is a great way to complete tasks you don’t enjoy doing. It’s much easier to keep up with your bookkeeping when you know you only have to do it for 25 minutes.

The five minute brainstorm technique

Do you feel like your first drafts are all over the place without a cohesive flow? Spend five minutes outlining some quick notes before you start writing. You don’t have to create a full-fledged outline. Just let your mind wander and see what comes up. This hack seems to rearrange things in my brain and makes the actual writing process easier.

Wear different hats. Literally.

Sometimes, I feel like two people live inside my brain. My inner writer is laid back, easy going and just wants to let things flow, man. My inner editor is much crankier–and she forces me to reexamine every word. Their constant fighting can make life…difficult.

If the two sides of you can’t get along, it’s time to separate the voices inside your head. Some writers wear one hat (like a baseball cap) when they’re writing and another (say, a cowboy hat) when they’re editing. You could even write at a Starbucks and edit at a Dunkin’ Donuts. The key is to physically do something that cues your brain into the right writing mode. It sounds like a cheesy solution, but it really does work. Try it and see.

The two minute trick

There are days when the writing muse isn’t with you, even when you’re writing during your peak time. You can’t think. You don’t feel like writing. You can feel the icy-cold beginnings of writer’s block seep into your brain.

Don’t pack in the keyboard! Instead, set a timer and force yourself to write for two minutes. At the end of two minutes, you can walk away if you choose. Or, you can keep going. Some days, you may close your laptop and know that you’ve done your best. And that’s OK. I often keep going past the two minute mark and write for an entire 25 minutes. There’s something about giving myself the permission to stop that loosens up my brain cobwebs.

What about you? What’s your favorite writing productivity hack (the weirder, the better!).

How to Turn Your Creativity up to 11

I’m often asked, “Heather, how do you write so much content without burning out?”

Um, good question. I could talk about how I’ve spent almost half of my life studying copywriting (ack, that’s scary to type.) Or how I force myself to write online copy, even when I don’t feel like writing. Or how I’m just plain stubborn.

But what’s the real secret of my success?

I force myself to take breaks – long, soul-renewing breaks – and let my creative juices do their thing.

I wasn’t always like this. Up until a year ago, I was working, working, working all the time. My day would start at 7 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. I’d finish one task and immediately move to the next one. I wasn’t taking vacations or many breaks during the day. Or if I was “taking a break,” I was playing on my phone or surfing on my iPad. Which, yeah, isn’t really a break.

I was intense.

During this time, I wasn’t really digging what I was writing. Sure, it was OK – but I wasn’t having those brilliant flashes of creativity that makes a writer’s life worthwhile. I wasn’t looking at my sentence structure thinking, “Damn, that’s goooood.” Was I feeling burnt out? Hell yeah. But I pushed through (sound familiar?).

In short, I wasn’t writing in the flow anymore – and that bugged me.

Then one day, I had to write a blog post after an acupuncture appointment. I thought I was “too relaxed” to write, but I sat down and did it anyway – part of that stubborn streak I have. What flowed (and yes, it flowed) was my “SEO copywriting tips in Haiku” post – and it remains as one of my most popular posts.

Aha! I made the connection. A more relaxed Heather means better writing.  When I’m feeling good, I can turn my creativity up to a Spinal Tap 11. Got it.

Turns out other folks are making the same connection. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame wrote an article about the benefits of soul-crushing boredom (props to @acteeple for the great link). The Huffington Post had a post today that discussed how “cyberloafing” at work can actually boost productivity. There’s even a National Relaxation Day on August 15th (Did you miss it and work instead? Yeah, me too.)

Plus, many writers report having their best ideas when they’re doing something else – taking a bath, enjoying a walk, or even just spacing out. Think about this in your own life. After all, have you ever had a brilliant flash of insight after working a 12-hour day?

Nope, didn’t think so.

Taking breaks actually encourages (and protects) your creativity. If you’re a freelance copywriter, Web designer, or do anything that’s more creative in nature, you NEED to chill out. You NEED to protect your creativity like a surgeon protects her hands.

Without our creativity, we’re lost.

If you’re feeling scrunched from all sides, building in some downtime could be just the ticket.  You may not be able to plan a 2-week cruise right now – but you can at least take steps to regain some work/life balance. For instance:

  • If you finish a task, take a 15 minute break away from the computer before moving to the next one.
  • Rather than fiddling with your phone when you’re bored, put it away and enjoy the moment. Even if it’s a boring moment.
  • Take time to do something “nonproductive” like walking, cooking or just staring off into space.
  • Spend at least one day a week away from your computer, iPad, iPod – you know, all those technological toys that we “can’t live without.” Guess what? You’ll be able to live without them.
  • Try something completely new. I love climbing into sensory deprivation float tanks and enjoying total darkness for 90 minutes. It sounds weird and scary – but damn, it’s been transformative.

This blog post lists other ways to step away from the screen give yourself a break.

Taking a chill pill doesn’t mean that you’re being lazy (I can hear my father’s voice telling me to “Get up and do something” every time I take a break!). Nor does it mean that you’re stupid or you’re not working “hard enough” (whatever that means.)

It means that you’re taking care of your creativity.

And you’ll find that your creativity has been cranked way, way up to  11. Who can beat that?

Next year, I’ll be taking over 2 weeks off to raft the Grand Canyon. There will be no phone. There will be no laptop or television. It’s freakin’ scary to know that I’ll be that unplugged, but I’m also looking forward to the experiment. Who knows where my creativity will take me – or how life-changing unplugging will be. I may go nuts the first couple days, but I know the experience will be well worth it.

Now isn’t it time to step away from the computer and take a break?  But before you go, post a comment on your fave ways to “chill out” and rejuvenate yourself. You may spark an idea for someone else.