Writing a Million+ Words - My Process

I write a lot. As a professional writer and blogger, you'd expect no less. Back in 2016, my Contently portfolio estimated I'd written 677,000 words.

Two years have passed since then, and articles have got longer and more complex. While I was writing for OptinMonster, it wasn't unusual for me to write 20,000 words a month. And then there's the work that doesn't have my name on it - I do some ghostwriting, too.

So I'm pretty secure in the claim that I've written more than a million words in the last few years. And I couldn't have done that without a reliable writing process and some excellent tools. Here's how I work.

1. Generate Ideas

Writers are usually pretty creative, but I have to admit that after years of writing about content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, conversion optimization, blogging and writing, it's sometimes hard to come up with a new take on a given topic.

My favorite tool for kickstarting the idea generation process is BuzzSumo. All I have to do is type in a phrase, hit search, and it shows me what's already popular on a topic that I want to write about.

For the idea generation phase, I don't need to look at the content of those articles. I'm just using the titles to get me started. I'll play around with related concepts till I find a title I like, often going through 10 title options or more.

Then I'll rack my brains for a relevant story I can use to bring the article to life. That gives me a way to humanize the content, and lead into my article with an appealing intro. It's not perfect every time, but the process mostly works.

2. Create an Outline

Once that's done, I create a rough outline. That's BEFORE I do research. One of the advantages of writing regularly about the same batch of topics is that I'm usually pretty up-to-date with information. So I can usually quickly jot down some sub-headings and quick notes on what I plan to cover under each one.

The only time I don't do it this way is when I'm writing a tutorial or walkthrough. In that case, I actually need to use the product and document the steps. My outline for this kind of post will usually cover introductory and supplementary material with a big gap in the middle where the tutorial will go.

3. Find Relevant Research

Even when I know a fact, I look for a research source to back it up. It makes for more authoritative content. I've been doing that since my journalism days, and it's never let me down.

When I search, I always use the toggles Google provides to search content published in the past year. I like to make sure my sources are up to date. If there's a piece of research I already know about, I'll check to see if it's been updated recently.

I'll skim read the content I find, make a note of useful points or links, and add these to my outline in the right places. If I want to quote something, I'll add that, too, and highlight it.

I tend to keep my outline and notes skimpy, because I don't want to inadvertently plagiarize anyone - or even myself (when you write a lot, you'll often find your own content popping up in search results).

Top Tool: Scrivener

It's worth noting at this point that I keep track of all my work in Scrivener. This app started as a tool for novel writers, but it works beautifully for professional bloggers.

I've shared my approach in this post, but I've recently updated it as follows:

  • I have a Work in Progress folder where I keep all current work, labeling each document according to the client
  • I have folders for each client, and completed work goes into one of those once my invoice has been paid
  • There are additional folders for client notes and for my own projects
  • And there's a folder where I can import useful research from URLs

For each article, Scrivener lets me input a target word count, so I can see how I'm doing. All work is labeled by stage, from Outline to Final Draft to Live. Because of this, when I open Scrivener, I have an immediate snapshot of all the writing I'm working on.

4. Write the First Draft

Usually, I'll dictate the first draft of any article with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. It saves my wrists, and lets me think aloud. Dragon NaturallySpeaking recognized about 90% of words out of the box, in spite of my unusual accent. And I've trained my version of Dragon to recognize brand names and other marketing terms that I use often.

I like to let a draft sit for 3-7 days, so I can look at it with fresh eyes when I'm ready to edit. I generally do the first edit on my own work before submitting it to a website editor or client.

5. Source Images

I'm pretty clear to most people that I'm a writer and not a graphic designer. However, if required, I'll find a feature image online, and suggest it to the client or website owner.

If I'm doing a tutorial, I take screenshots of the steps as I go. I often use the Print Screen tool in Windows, and I've also used CloudApp. I've also used Chrome extensions such as Nimbus Screenshot and Awesome Screenshot.

6. Finalize the Article

The last stage is to give my work the final edit. This is a good time to check that the intro works, eliminate any dictation errors, and read the article for flow. I want to make sure that readers get what they need from every article.

It's also the time when I'll polish up the conclusion and add a call to action if needed. This is important because I write primarily for business websites looking to attract customers.

If I'm not too close to deadline, I'll let this second version sit for a day before giving it a final read-through and submitting it.

Should You Use This Writing Process?

I'm not saying that this is the only way to approach writing. But having been a writer for a few decades and written more than a million words, I know it's a process that works for me.

What tools and techniques do you find most effective when you blog?

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