Writing and publishing are two distinct processes. Writing is pure word craft: it's all about capturing your ideas and drafting them in a way that your visitors will appreciate and hopefully act upon.
Publishing is about turning those words into posts and pages on your website for readers. Publishing is dealt with separately.
Breakdown of My Writing Process
Here's a summary of my writing process (yours may end up being very different):
- I capture ideas and inspiration for posts.
- I write out drafts or outlines by hand often while traveling (long plane or train rides). For some reason, I initially write better by hand than on a keyboard.
- I dictate what I wrote, sometimes adding thoughts as they come to me. I do this because I dictate much faster than I type. Sometimes I will “write” by dictating too as doing so captures the elements I need, but these first drafts usually need a lot more work.
- I print the draft in hard copy.
- I review it by hand usually adding lots of edits (and I mean LOTS). If there is insufficient room in the margins, I add (1), (2) etc. where I want to insert text and write the accompanying text either in the bottom or top margins, or on separate sheets of paper.
- I’ll then print out a revised version of the draft and re-work it again.
- I’ll then perform some keyword research and further adjust the draft. Some would recommend doing the keyword research first, but I find doing it first makes the writing far too artificial. I prefer instead to “tweak” my almost finished drafts with focus keyword considerations towards the end of the writing process. Google is anyway smart enough these days that you don't need to engage in the old fashioned “keyword stuffing” of yesteryear.
- I provide the latest hard copy to my editor (my wife) for input. I then consider her input. I appreciate her fresh eye, especially as she more closely represents the target audience than me. However, I do not blindly accept her input given that I am the subject matter expert.
- I’ll then often finalize the draft for publishing in WordPress.
Even if I use a freelancer in the writing process (a great technique for leveraging your time if and when you can afford it), my role in the process starts at step #4: I’ll review the draft, sometimes asking the freelancer to make changes, and then I’ll complete the rest of the drafting and publishing process myself.
Possible Steps in the Writing Process
The writing process I outlined above is by no means what I’d recommend. In fact, my jumbled writing process only serves to illustrate that there is no “right” way to go about things. I doubt many experts would recommend my steps but, hey, they work for me.
The point is that you need to find what works for you. Below, I break down the writing process into further steps and techniques you may want to try.
As you see, the writing process for me is simply to write, write, write and write some more. I'm a very inefficient writer in that I write a lot, rewrite, rewrite and rewrite again.
Unfortunately, I am not so gifted or blessed that the text I draft the first time is what makes its way into the published post.
Some people can write flowing prose which needs little editing afterwards. These people can write and capture their ideas perfectly the first time. I am certainly not one of those people.
I work by getting all the ideas down in a big brain dump of sorts and then rework, rearrange and restructure the text. But you must find what works best for you.
For me the writing process is a long and winding road. I tend to write or dictate in fits and starts. And often I am dictating little snippets of ideas into my smartphone that have come to me while walking or running on the treadmill.
I then rewrite the edits and add more text. This process continues in cycles until the work starts to become more cohesive.
The slow pace of this should not be underestimated. The initial rewriting to implement my edits and comments takes me about half an hour per page.
Capturing Your Ideas
I use a bunch of different ways to capture my ideas. That’s because ideas come to me at all different times.
I use Evernote for content capture (such as saving full online articles) but Google Keep for ideas and my to-do's. I also use Google Docs for more detailed analysis and lists.
In the past, I used Evernote for everything, but found it too cumbersome for jotting down quick thoughts and ideas such as “change the image on page xyz". Google Keep on my smartphone is great for capturing those quick to do’s.
It is easy to use Evernote to capture a news article or post I’d like to consult in detail later or use as inspiration for a new post. I must admit though that things I send to Evernote often go there to die. There’s some comfort knowing I’ve captured the item, but often I’ll never consult these items again.
What also works well for me is printing the interesting things I come across and keeping them in topical hard copy folders. These include: To Do (print-outs of my own posts to edit or enhance), Pipeline (new ideas), To Read (SEO tips & techniques).
Sometimes good old paper and pen just can’t be beat. I find that especially true when travelling for example.
Longhand Drafting ("Old School")
I often draft in long hand, especially for editing hard copy posts. I try to print my draft posts single-sided or, if double-sided, with wide margins because I ultimately do a lot of my drafting as part of the editing process.
If you also adopt editing in longhand as part of your writing process, make sure when you print any drafts for review that you leave a large bottom margin, so you can add further text. I usually insert a number in a circle where I want to insert text and then write that text in the bottom margin space designated with the same number.
The large space is handy when you want to add lots of text such as inserting a new sentence or even paragraph, or when crossing out a significant portion of a sentence and writing the replacement text for it.
My draft posts also usually end with a 'Car Park' heading. This is a place where I move content that I'm not yet sure about but don't want to delete either.
Sometimes these Car Park materials make their way into the post or serve as the basis for another post.
Dictating Drafts to Save Time
Dictating can be a very fast way to capture a lot of content. I am a big fan of the voice recognition software on both my iPhone and Android tablet.
I find dictation especially handy for transcribing my longhand drafts. I’ll draft with pen and paper and then dictate the written text into Google Docs for later pasting into a WordPress post.
You can even dictate in public without causing too much disturbance, including on public transportation or in a busy place, by placing your hand over your mouth.
For me, dictation is a lifesaver as I type very slowly. That said, dictation is also a skill which takes a little time to master. Be patient.
Using Freelancers for First Drafts (Fiverr, Upwork, etc.)
My experience with hiring freelancers online for writing has been hit and miss. I have hired some real stinkers, but also a handful of gems.
To me, Upwork is the best place to find a decent blog post writer if you follow some tips below.
In general, Fiverr is more suitable for less time-intensive tasks than writing, such as logo design but that seems to be changing as the portal moves further away from $5 flat rate jobs.
Tips for Posting Tasks on Upwork, Fiverr etc.
I have learned the hard way not to post “open” tasks. These are tasks that everyone and anyone can apply for and believe me, everyone and anyone will do exactly that! You will get a lot of stinkers if you do this.
Help yourself by composing a very clear task and then invest some time researching potential freelancers that you invite to bid on the task.
By inviting only freelancers you have carefully selected, you get exactly what you want.
Don't open your task up for everyone! You will get a lot of people promising the moon for dirt cheap rates and you will end up with poor, late or no work done and will have lost precious time.
I will attract some ire for saying this, but I would generally recommend you to be careful with very low-priced freelancers.
I say “generally” because of course there are some quality freelancers to be found at low price points. It is just that my experience with many of these freelancers was to receive work largely of poor quality. That said, some of the rates are attractively low and hopefully your targeted freelance searching will unearth some gems.
You also must take some responsibility yourself: make sure your posted task is clear and sets out the expected deliverables and timeframe.
Using Evernote as a Road Map for Developing First Drafts
As mentioned elsewhere, it is fast and easy to capture research and categorize it with Evernote.
Once you have collected five or more articles on a certain VPN topic with Evernote, a post can sometimes almost write itself.
You go into Evernote and select the relevant tag. Presto, a nice set of headlines is there which you can reword and use as inspiration for your post’s headings and structure. Write two or three paragraphs under each heading and you'll have a decent first draft.
Blog Writing Tips
No matter how you go about researching and doing your initial writing, your goal is to end up with a draft post in Word or a Google Doc.
But web content needs to be very digestible. This means using short paragraphs, bullet lists and indenting to help move your readers through the piece and to the desired call to action, whether clicking an affiliate link, subscribing to your mailing list, making a donation or moving them further along a sales funnel.
No 250-word long paragraphs please!
Here are some tips organized under various subheadings to make your drafting process a little smoother.
Use Only Basic Formatting
Pasting from Word or Google Docs into a WordPress post will only keep some formatting.
Other than the elements mentioned below, just stick to default settings whether in Word or Google Docs. Fancy fonts and advanced formatting will not paste correctly into WordPress and will only make publishing your post more difficult and time-consuming.
Do yourself a favour and use only the following formatting in your draft documents:
- headings (H1 ⇾ H4). Don't use the Title or Subtitle style in Google Docs or Word. Your document should only have one H1 heading which will be the post’s title in WordPress.
- underline, bold and italics
- lists, whether numbered (ordered) or unnumbered (unordered)
- hyperlinks (hot key: Ctrl+K) especially for external links which are easy to lose track of if you don't implement them right away while writing. But don’t bother with any default ‘open in new tab’ settings as they will not be retained when pasted into WordPress.
- interestingly, basic tables done in Word will paste rather OK into WordPress. However, the plugins Tablepress (free) and Thrive Architect are better tools for professional looking tables.
How to Decide on Consistent Terminology or Terms
If you are ever unsure about what terms or terminology to use in a post, keep in mind Google's Keyword Planner tool.
For example, one of my draft posts was peppered with differing terms such as external storage media, portable storage devices, portable hard drive, USB thumb drive, USB stick, etc.
After investing only a few moments in Google's Keyword Planner tool, you can determine what are the most popular terms being searched on Google. These are the terms you should use in your post as they will capture the most searches.
Of course this best applies to general terminology for which there are multiple options. If you are intentionally targeting a specific focus keyword, that’s a different story and, of course, stick with that term.
Embrace “Copy Writing” for Your Posts
Act now! Limited time offer! Deal of a life time!
These are hallmarks of classic copywriting. The trouble is: it doesn't work online. You are much better giving up on the hard sell and adopting instead a subtle funnel.
By "subtle funnel" I mean rather than trying high pressure sales speak, it is better to approach the writing like how you would explain things in an email to a friend.
Adding Links to Your Posts
Every link you add while writing a draft post should matter.
When adding external links ask why you are doing so, as adding them could send readers off your site. However, this can be mitigated by ensuring the link opens in a new tab/page (this is discussed in more detail as part of the Publishing process).
Internal links should move your readers closer to your money-making links, pages or calls to action.
Top Tip - When using Pretty Links to add affiliate links to your site, make sure that you select the nofollow attribute. Otherwise, you will leak precious “SEO juice” to the destination site.
Use Verbs in Headings
One excellent tip I follow is to try and have a verb in each subheading.
In other words, try and have lots of words ending in ING such as keeping your data safe, encrypting your traffic, protecting your children, removing your online traces, etc.
Avoid these Common Punctuation & Grammar Mistakes
Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!!!!!!
You should remove most, if not, all exclamation marks from your text. Instead of using too many exclamation marks, you should use powerful language to make your points, rather than overly relying on punctuation.
Related, it is easy to overuse the word “very”. It is much better to rely on powerful language than to rely on this adverb.
Also pay attention to how you use emphasis. It is too easy to be inconsistent; sometimes using italics, sometimes bold, and other times underline.
Ideally, settle on one way to stress important words or terms in your writing and stick with it.
Finally, it is also important to write as much as possible in the active voice. There are plenty of resources available online showing you how to achieve this. But in general, write as simply as possible: subject (I) + verb (wrote) + object (the blog post) rather than something overly complicated like, The blog post was something I had written.
Don’t Edit While Writing
Don’t mix up editing with writing.
When you're writing, just write. Let the ideas flow and don't worry if you don't get the words exactly right.
It's more important when writing to get the ideas down. The editing can come later.
Use Placeholders for Missing Information
While writing, if you are at a loss for words, or missing some details, just insert a temporary placeholder.
I do this when I suffer a momentary writer’s block or for any elements that are missing or require further research. In whatever case, I insert a placeholder to return to later.
I like to use the less than (<) and greater than (>) signs for my placeholders as these characters rarely comes up in written form (unless you are writing about html). For example, <insert further explanation here>.
This makes it easy for me to zip through a document using the Ctrl+F hot key or Edit > Find menu command when looking for elements that I need to complete and fill in.
Plan for Images While Writing
The web is increasingly visual as the success of Instagram proves. While writing your posts, this means thinking a little about where you might place images in the content and what their captions could be.
I go into all the details about images in the Adding Images to Posts section. But for the writing stage, suffice to say, use the placeholder technique above to indicate where an image could be inserted.
For example, “<place screenshot image here with caption: Connecting to the VPN server>”.
Backing Up Your Writing as You Work
Given some bad experiences I had losing work, I have taken this to new levels of paranoia.
Whenever I invest a sizable amount of time writing, I save the file in two “redundant” locations. If working off a USB stick I make a copy of my draft post to Google Drive or Gmail it to myself or use Google Backup & Sync.
Either technique takes less than 10 seconds and ensures that you have a backup copy.
You need a redundant copy in a different location (rather than, for example, saving it to another USB stick) as it’s no use having your electronic files backed up on your laptop, USB stick or a portable hard drive if your whole apartment burns down.
Of course, you can just work in the cloud to begin with, such as Google Docs. I often do, but you can’t always be online especially if travelling a lot. As a result, I find myself working on files saved on my laptop or saved separately on a USB thumb drive (because I am often on different computers even when offline).
File Naming Tips
It sounds trite, but the sooner you come up with a standard file naming and file saving practice the better.
There's nothing more frustrating than having a bunch of files on your computer or saved in the cloud which you've lost track of.
I generally name my files starting with the date in the format yyymmdd.
Conduct Keyword Research
At this stage, you may want to engage in some keyword research. Knowing what focus keywords might help boost your post in Google's ranking is a great way to finish up and polish those draft posts. We've dedicated an entire part to how to conduct keyword research.
Having 100 half-drafted VPN posts is useless and nowhere near as good as having 5 finished ones. Read that again.
Having a collection of partially completed VPN posts is not going to bring you any visitors or income. You must complete posts and publish them on your VPN website for that to happen!
It is better to have one post published and live on your site than to have five drafts that are “almost ready”.
At some stage, you must get rid of the blanks, placeholders and comments in your draft post. This is a vital stage because it's very easy to keep editing and adding suggestions and yet more things to research or check.
Having 100 half-finished VPN posts is nowhere near as good as having 5 finished ones.
Eventually, you just have to bite the bullet, make some decisions and get rid of all the placeholders and comments. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. It is better to have a good but imperfect post published, than to have a post forever in draft waiting until it’s perfect.
This step will include shrugging your shoulders and deleting some of the remaining placeholders and comments, addressing others right away, or adding them to your To Do list, perhaps for the next edition of that same post, for a different post entirely or to be forever deleted.
Use an Editor
While it’s true that blog writing is informal and conversational in nature, that is no excuse for sloppiness.
You need an editor, ideally for both content and copy editing. A content editor helps make sure your writing makes sense whereas a copy editor helps catch typos and other mistakes.
Nothing will send visitors away faster from your website than typos, obvious grammatical errors or content that is poorly structured, unclear or just sucks.
Now, if my recommendation that you have an “editor” has you seeing money flying out the window, don't worry.
My “editor” is my wife. Your editor could just as easily be your spouse, a friend or a friend of a friend.
My wife may not know as much about VPNs as me, but you can look at that as a good thing.
I’m often too close to the materials I’ve written and can’t spot issues in the details or even in the structure. But there are things my trusty editor usually does spot.
Choosing a Professional Editor
I once used a professional (paid) editor. It was many years ago for my first ebook, long before I even had a money-making website.
I chose my editor by simply searching on the web. I identified about 10 editors from typing in searches such into Google.
I looked at potential editors’ resumes and portfolios to see what they had worked on.
In the end, I contacted probably half a dozen and selected two. One was based in the UK. He was not cheap and did not have much time for me. He edited two of my most important ebook chapters and did an excellent job.
I would have been thrilled if he could edit all my drafted content. However, I couldn't afford it at the time and he simply didn't have the time to edit all the chapters I had drafted.
What he did do though was perform a very comprehensive edit and added more comments than usual as a form of coaching that I could then apply throughout the remaining content.
Once I had implemented the editor’s suggestions throughout the remaining contents, I then provided the entire revised draft to the a second, less-expensive editor.
This second editor did a reasonably good job especially at finding typos and picking out grammatical errors, but they did not do anywhere near the sort of Cadillac job that the first editor had done.
Nonetheless, by the end I was happy with the editing process and what I had paid.
Hopefully the tips and tricks above will have you polishing off some draft posts in no time.
Once you have some VPN posts ready to go, it's time to publish them on your VPN website.
let's publish those posts!