By Lisa Tanner, freelance writer and contributor to this blog
Are you hoping to save time as a freelance writer? The faster you can produce content, the more gigs you can take. Or the more you can earn without increasing your hours. When you streamline the writing process, you free up time for other things.
I’ve been writing for clients since 2015, and I’ve discovered that each stage of the writing process has tasks you can make more efficient. In this post, I’ll show you my best time saving tips for all five stages of the writing process:
Ready to streamline the writing process? Let’s get started!
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I used to despise prewriting. My high school self saw it as an incredible waste of time.
The freelance writer version of myself? I’ve discovered that a solid prewriting session is the single most important thing I can do to streamline the writing process.
The more thought you put into prewriting, the smoother the entire piece goes.
As a freelance writer, your prewriting tasks include:
- Brainstorming topics (if you need to generate your own ideas instead of working through a list your client provides)
- Thinking through the ideal audience and desired tone of the post
- Picking a format
- Creating an outline
At each stage of the prewrite, you can take steps to save time.
Have you ever had the perfect idea come to you and then forgotten to write it down? If you’re anything like me, that perfect idea just vanished forever.
To help, make it a habit to jot down your ideas when they come. Have a spot on your phone where you add post ideas for each of your clients. Or dedicate a page to each client in your planner and write down the ideas as they come.
Yes, it will take a few seconds to get to the list and write it down. But, that’s much less time than you’ll spend if you have to waste time trying to remember what it was.
Thinking Through the Ideal Audience and Desired Tone
Who are you writing this content for? Take time in this planning stage to identify the audience.
Doing this will help you more quickly create content that is a good fit. If you need to write a post that’s more formal as opposed to conversational, you can identify that before you start.
Getting this piece correct will help minimize the amount of redos you need to tackle for clients.
If you are going to be creating multiple pieces for this client, and the tone and audience are going to be the same, write it down. That way you won’t have to think about it again, you can just look at your client notes and refresh your memory.
The amount of research you need to do for your post varies on what you already know about the topic and what your client expects. I also include making a list of potential internal (and external) links during this stage of the process.
Now, don’t just read or think about those articles. Take time to write them down, so you can find them again if you need them. Otherwise you may wind up on a gigantic wild goose chase searching for something you know you read.
To save time, I typically copy and paste the URL into my notes for each post. That way when it’s time to write, I don’t waste time tracking down my research sources. They’re right there, ready for me to grab.
Picking a Format
What type of content does your client want? Are they looking for an in-depth “how-to” style post? Or a step-by-step tutorial? Do they want a round-up?
Knowing what format your finished post needs to be will help you make an appropriate outline.
Creating an Outline
An outline tells you as a writer where your post is going to go. It helps you move your reader from where they are currently to where you want them to be by the end of the post.
A solid outline helps you stay on topic. It also helps you avoid clickbait titles where you promise the world but then don’t actually deliver anything of value.
The process Sally uses to outline her books is a little more visual than the process I use, but since everyone’s mind works differently, you may find her way to be a better fit.
Like Sally, I do use a pen and paper to plan my content. I find it is easier for me to do it this way than to try to use technology to capture all of the ideas running through my brain.
Here is my process:
- Put the topic/title at the top
- Do a brain dump, writing down each idea I have
- Continue writing until I can’t think of any more ideas
- Read over what I wrote
- Begin to analyze and make notes
When analyzing my brain dump, I look for patterns that fit the style of posts I’m working on. I typically use numerals to number ideas. These would be the equivalent of a subheading. Then any ideas that go within a subheading, I mark with the same number and a quick dash (-).
I’ve learned to read through each entry aloud before I start numbering. This saves time in the long run, so you know everything that is on your list.
After you’ve read through them, it’s time to make some sense out of your notes. Go back through and start numbering. If an idea really doesn’t fit, put an X next to it. Don’t scratch them out completely, as it may be the perfect idea for another post. Or you may decide to use it as a filler in this post.
Once every idea is labeled, you can begin forming your outline. I typically do this step on the computer, because it’s quicker to adjust things when I’m typing, but you can do it with a pen and paper if you prefer.
Don’t be afraid to experiment during the outlining stage. What works for me may be a horrible fit for you. So try a variety of things until you know what’s the best way to get all of your ideas onto paper in an organized fashion.
When all of your ideas are written down, and you know where your post is going, it’s time to draft.
I prefer to outline one day and draft the next. That’s so I can take advantage of think time. It lets me keep the topic in the back of my mind and let my thoughts simmer overnight.
When it’s time to draft, use your outline as a road map. Stick to the plan. That way you can quickly get from start to finish.
To help streamline the writing process when it comes to drafting, here are tips:
- Just write – without worrying about typos or an incorrect phrase
- Write one section from my outline at a time with a quick stretch between them
- Have some background noise (with nine kids, my brain is not used to working in silence – so if it’s nighttime I turn on some music or the television)
- Sit in a comfortable position
- Use a familiar keyboard (you’ll type much faster on a keyboard you’re used to. Slight differences can lead to slow typing because you’re dealing with muscle memory)
To help drafting go faster, make sure you’ve built a writing habit. The more you write, the more quickly you will be able to write. Sally has a great section about developing a writing habit in her post 5 Steps to Write a Book in Eight Weeks or Less.
When you’ve drafted your content, the next step is to tackle revisions.
In the writing process, revising is the stage where you worry about:
- Word Count
- Writing Headlines
By now, you know what your post is about and what your words will deliver to the reader. You can use this time to read through your post carefully and look for any missing information.
Does your content skip any steps? Do you cover all the key details?
Do you have the minimum amount of words that you need? If not, I recommend brainstorming an additional section you can add, or beefing up a section that could legitimately use more information. Don’t add fluff.
Are your sections in the right order, or should you rearrange them for better clarity? If you add a new section, make sure you double check that it’s in the most appropriate spot.
Once your content is in decent shape, spend a few minutes brainstorming headlines. By waiting on headlines until now, you have the information you need to create a click worthy headline that accurately reflects what’s inside.
With your headline in place, it’s time to edit.
Editing your content allows you to turn in high quality work. It helps build your reputation as a freelancer.
Take time to edit each piece of work you submit.
During the editing process, you need to check for:
- Typos or misspelled words
- Grammar mistakes
- Run on sentences
- Unclear wording
Your goal should be to submit work that is free of errors, or at least nearly free of errors. Some will slip by occasionally, because you are human after all.
But, editing can be a challenge if you just got finished writing a post. Your brain knows what you meant to say, and when you’re editing, you may accidentally skip over some errors.
To streamline the writing process when it comes to editing, here are some strategies that you can use:
Ideally, you want to wait at least a couple of hours between revising and editing. This allows you time to clear your head and focus on other things.
Reading your post out loud can really streamline this phase of the writing process. You see, when you read aloud you involve more senses. Instead of just looking at the content, you are saying and hearing it as well.
This means you’re less likely to fix something in your head without acknowledging the error.
Print & Fix
Consider printing and using a pen to correct mistakes. This method takes paper, but it can be beneficial with longer or more technical pieces.
At least, I’ve discovered this works for me. I’m not sure why this is, but I suspect it’s because I get in “skimming” mode when I read these types of posts on a screen. With a hard copy, it’s much easier for the eyes to track each word.
How are you submitting your work for your client? Are you turning in a Word document or a Google Doc?
If so, make sure you have the formatting completed. Take a quick peek at your client’s style guide and make sure everything is up to par.
Are you submitting the post directly into the backend of WordPress? Once you get it uploaded, take the time to preview the post to make sure everything looks good.
Consider creating a checklist for each client. That way you can easily verify that you’ve done everything you need to do. It’s a great way to streamline this part of the writing process.
Save Time When You Streamline the Writing Process
There you have it. A few ideas for streamlining each step of the writing process. I hope it allows you to create content faster.