In our Better Blogger Survey, we found out two things about (most) of you:
- 86% of you plan to publish more content than you have been.
- 75% of you are on a team of only two people or are blogging solo.
Nathan suggested that I talk a bit more about this topic, partially because of the fact that I work as a solo blogger and write about 6,000 to 10,000 words each week, and also because you and I have similar goals (yep, I took that same survey and can vouch for these two concern points).
Usually, I’ll push the idea that if you can’t handle more, you can’t do more. But for the go-getters out there who are insisting that you are going to write more no matter what, here’s the ugly truth: Self-discipline and work lie ahead, not gimmicks or hacks.
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And, to get things off to a great start, let’s talk about distractions.
Control The Distractions To Write More
I’ve talked about distraction-free writing in terms of the writing space itself, and how the visual distractions of the app you write in might hamper your writing efforts.
Nothing derails my ability to write more, though, than the fact that I can check Facebook, my phone, Twitter, and every other non-work “information” source under the sun to avoid the work of writing. I blame my browser’s URL recognition and the fact that I can start typing “facebook” with just my left hand for sending me over there so much. It’s as if my hand starts typing “face--” on its own at this point.
These technology and computer-based distractions are a struggle to deal with, but there are some technological based solutions you can use (e.g. Chrome plugins that limit time on social media, or a browser that locks you out of websites you’ve deemed distracting during work hours).
But there are other distractions that have nothing to do with technology.
I write at home, and since we’ve been having wonderful warm fall weather lately, I like to open up the windows for fresh air. The distraction? A neighbor who leaves the dog out all day while he is at work, leaving the neighborhood with incessant barking and howling the entire day. If you’re like me, once you hear a noise and really notice it, it’s all you hear. That white noise machine works great for putting you to sleep at night, for example, until one night you hear the loop and from that point on, all you can hear is the loop. So with Mr. McBarky in the neighborhood, I find I have to write elsewhere (basement, coffee shops, library) or keep the windows closed. If not, I inevitably end up enraged on a ridiculous level, calling animal control to report the dog.
So what to do about the distractions that keep you from writing more content and hitting your blog schedule goals?
1. Identify your distractions.
Distractions can be digital, they can be audible, they can be hunger, they can be coworkers, they can be disinterest, they can be emotional—anything that sends your thought off track. Before you can defeat them, you have to be able to identify them.
What am I doing when I realize I’m not writing?
If you sat down to write and suddenly realize you aren’t, diagnose what happened. Write down what distracted you, and where you ended up. Write down what time of day it was, and the setting (where you were) when it took place. Note why you think you were distracted.
2. Find the distraction pattern.
Distraction patterns often follow typical paths.
We can focus better in the morning (especially as you get older), while we almost look for distraction later in the afternoon. We can focus better if we haven’t been sitting still in the same place too long. We get sleepy after a big meal.
Look at those moments of distraction that keep popping up. Can you see a pattern? Was it because you were bored, tired, or had just eaten lunch?
Try to figure out when and why you are the most distracted, and see if you can plan your writing to happen when you are least distracted. This is tricky in a team; the plans and meetings of others are inevitably going to force you into distraction zones. This is a valid topic of discussion with your team regarding the scheduling of meetings and other distractions versus the goal of writing more content.
You may find one key reason for “distraction” is procrastination.
3. Build on useful distractions.
When I am trying to read something difficult that I know is good for me, I find my mind wandering. I will miraculously remember a million valid things I need to remember doing, things I don’t seem to recall unless I’m otherwise trying to harness my attention to something difficult.
Keep a piece of paper handy and write down those to-dos, those “oh yeah” moments so that you can get it out of your mind and can get on with the main thing at hand. Otherwise, they just sit there and fester and make it impossible for you to get your writing done.
And heck, you’ll probably end up with a fine task list when you’re done. Might as well capitalize on the inevitable distraction and turn them from something negative into something useful.
4. Kill useless distractions.
Here’s where the meat of the whole “control your distractions” approach takes effect, and it won’t be fun or pretty. It’s going to hurt. I mean, if we are people who are checking our mobile phones nearly once every six waking minutes of the day, we are clearly addicted to distractions. We give lip service to our disgust with experiencing distractions while we secretly crave any chance to be interrupted from work.
- Mobile phone. Turn off your phone completely so there are no dings and vibrations. Or, turn off all app notifications. Or go into a room away from your mobile phone.
- Offline. Write with pen and paper, or even a typewriter (for reals, not ironically), so that you aren’t tempted to venture down any Internet rabbit hole. If you need the Internet to do research, write the outline and basic post structure offline first. You can write in Google Docs offline, so turn off your Internet connection and use that feature.
- Get a door. Find a quiet place that has a door and let your team members know (or your family, or your kids) that you cannot be interrupted until a set time. Get a clock placard and hang on the door with a note about interruptions if you have to.
- Limit messages. Forbid yourself from checking email more than three times a day. Two is even better. The same for social media that you use for messaging. Unless you are the social media manager or it's part of your planned social media engagement program, get off of it. This is why planning is important for all content creation, including social media. Without planning, you sort of find yourself on Twitter, all the time. Whoops.
- Dominate your stomach. Have water nearby, before you write, unless you plan to break at regular intervals to walk and get water. But don’t eat too much before you prepare to do your most arduous content creation. Eating makes you sleepy. A little hunger pang during your writing isn’t going to kill you; it might sharpen your senses a bit. While fatigue can improve some aspects of creativity (because it wears down barriers you erect in your mind), writing a coherent blog post while drowsy doesn’t work. If you get great ideas while you’re sleepy, fine. Do the writing of those ideas while you’re sharp and awake.
- Rethink your hunger. No more “I think I need a snack” excuses. Most of the coffee consumed in offices is likely out of boredom. You just want to get up and away from your desk.
- Set a timer. Sometimes, I find it really helpful to inject a level of fake “stress” by setting a timer and saying, for example, that I have 1 hour to get a post written. Granted, I’ll have to clean it up and such, but it really turns the focus on when you’re racing against the clock. You produce. You can clean it up later.
- Move around. Get up and away from your desk. Go for a walk before you sit down to do any major writing. If you’re one of the frozen chosen like we are up here in North Dakota and it’s too cold out, find a stairwell and go up and down a few flights to get the blood pumping.
- Procrastination problems. Admit you’re a procrastinator, and start working on the self-discipline to do the hard stuff first. That alone will decrease your distractions because you’ve removed the biggest contributor to the category of Distractions You Can Control.
- Tidy up. Get junk and clutter off of your desk and workspace.
- No noises. No, you cannot do a good job writing with the TV going or music blaring. I know some people swear that they can’t write without music blaring through their earbuds, but I really doubt it. Perhaps there are some scenarios or rare situations, but generally, having the words of others wafting through the brain isn’t going to help you write a blog post. And sitting down in front of the TV in the evening with your laptop with the idea that you’ll write and watch Netflix at the same time? Liar. It will only take longer than if you did it without the background noise.
If your team is serious about writing more content and also realizes that distractions are a serious issue, you will need to essentially create a “clean room”, a place where distractions cannot be found. No phones, no noises, a door—whatever you’ve determined is derailing your writing efforts.
Stop Being An Island
John Donne said that no man was an island, and the same can be said for your team. There are other people out there who can help you write more content through things like guest posts and interviews.
It’s just a guess, but when most content marketers (particularly solo marketers) start thinking about the overwhelming state of writing more content, they are thinking as islanders. They are thinking it’s all on them. They are thinking that each piece of content is brand new, from scratch, all on their lonesome.
A couple of truths about writing content that can help get you off the island:
- There are great guest writers out there. Find them on the blogs you already enjoy reading. Find them in the comments section. Ask them if they’d like to write for you.
- Please remember to reuse your content.
- Content curation is a valid part of “your” content plan.
- Most ideas are derivative. You don’t always have to come up with new ideas every day. You can expound or rework your own, or other’s, ideas.
In other words, you can include other people's content in your efforts to “write” more content, even if you didn’t exactly create the content. The big trap for you comes when you view writing as starting fresh and new each day. You think you’re running a race on your own when you’re actually running a relay and passing off the baton.
The overlap between growth and quantity.
It’s not that you don’t already know those things in that list; we’ve talked about them a lot here on this blog.
But I think it’s easy to think of them in terms of “these are growth hacks” and forget that they are also a part the “writing more content” set. More content often leads to more growth, but if you step back and see it not just as part of your plan to grow but also part of how you’ll simply go about increasing your content output, it might help you approach these ideas better. Growth tends to be numbers we measure after something has occurred. Writing a larger quantity of content is something that has to simply happen right now.
So, if you have a list of things to do to grow your brand, and you have a different list of things to do to write more content, and those lists don’t have these similarities, you need to rethink your approach.
A Lack Of Resources
Perhaps the stumbling block for writing more content is that you lack resources. These might include:
Well, that’s really all of it, isn’t it?
Any kind of blogging resource falls into one of those biggies.
I can’t conjure up more time for you, though I can talk to you about using it more wisely and defeating procrastination. I can also suggest a couple of things that might be consuming the limited amount of time and resources that you have.
- If you don’t have time to write long, long blog posts, don’t write them. Ideal blog post length is really quite arguable. Different bloggers swear by different post lengths. Fresh and frequent content happens easier with shorter posts if you are short on time and blogging solo.
- You may love Blog X’s layout and gadgetry, and the success they’ve touted from using them, but if you don’t know how to create and/or maintain such things, why are you wasting so much time chasing it down for your own site? Just create good content and forget the bells and whistles for now.
- You may not know as much as the rest in your niche. So capitalize on that from two directions: Learn by reading the experts, and create content for your own audience based around what you found and learned from the experts. Eventually, you’ll gain the knowledge yourself. In the meantime, you write more content and you bring your audience along for the education ride.
- You may wish to be the Oracle Of Your Niche, but it’s probably not going to happen. If you don’t have the time to search down 10 white papers for research for one post, find one really good piece of information and set your plan to create three pieces of content from the one.
When tallying up what resources you think you need as you create your content marketing plan, list resources you actually have instead of resources others have that you want. You can still make great stuff with fewer resources.
Remember, necessity is the mother of invention.
The key to writing more content from a small amount of input is to be creative with what you have, not what you think you should have.