We all have so much content to create that we don’t have the luxury of lots of time to noodle over ideas and to wordsmith to our heart’s content. To succeed in nonprofit marketing, you have to learn to write more quickly.
Here are 14 lessons I’ve learned over the years in between daily blogging, writing a weekly e-newsletter, authoring two full-length books, and more.
Before You Write
Come up with a system for saving stuff you might use. I use a combination of Diigo and Evernote to save things I find online. I will forward some emails that I know I want to save for a particular use out of Gmail and into Evernote. I will take photographs of things offline, including handwritten notes, and save those to Evernote too (If I don’t write too sloppily, Evernote can read my handwriting, which makes it searchable).
Sort and label as best you can as you go. I try to use a similar naming system for tagging across Diigo, Evernote, Gmail, etc. I tag based on topics, like Facebook or Writing Fast, as well as by where I might use the info, like in a Mixed Links blog post or a webinar.
Use an editorial calendar. We use a combination of a spreadsheet for the big picture and layered Google calendars for the day-to-day management.
Mind map or sketch or outline. Come up with some way to get your thoughts organized before you actually start to write. I prefer mind mapping over outlining because it helps me find the right angle or nut of the story better. Use whatever process gets you there fastest.
As You Write
Get comfortable. If you have writing traditions that get you in the mood, follow them! I always get a cup of hot tea and often a cookie. (I just ate two while writing this). I also like to be warm so I will grab a hoodie or even a blanket sometimes.
Picture whom you are writing it for in your mind. This idea (using a persona) helps you focus on the right message and choose the right words, right from the start.
Find your hook as fast as possible. I can’t really get going with a piece until I know the hook. Sometimes that’s the format (like this list) or sometimes it’s an opinionated statement or lesson of some sort. But the faster I decide on what that is, the faster the rest of the writing goes.
Set a timer. If you get easily distracted like I do, or have a tendency to go off topic, set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes. That gives you a chance to course correct, and if you are doing great, just quickly reset it for another 15 minutes when it goes off.
Write drunk, edit sober. That’s attributed to Ernest Hemingway. Self-editing as you go will really slow you down. Writing is one process, editing is another, and proofreading is yet another. Don’t try to do them all at once. Give yourself the chance to write freely (since writing drunk at work isn’t a great idea) before you start editing and proofreading.
Know where to find your creative genie. If you just aren’t feeling it, go in search of your creative genie. I find mine most often in one of three places: when I am taking a shower, when I am walking/running, or when I am reading a book. Great ideas are more likely to come to me then compared to when I am at my desk.
After You Write
Prune it back in support of the hook. Before you start word-by-word or line editing, focus on the main point and ensuring that everything connects back to that. It doesn’t make sense to start fine-tuning sentences that you may end up cutting entirely, so get the arguments or key points done first, before word smithing.
Edit what doesn’t fit into a “Cut From” file. You wrote something you like, but it just doesn’t work in this article. You do need to cut it, but you don’t have to delete it forever. Paste it into a “Cut from” file, as in “Cut from Sally Profile.” Save all that stuff in a folder so you can find it later. It’s a great resource for times when you have writer’s block and need somewhere to start.
Get to know your garbage. We all have bad writing habits: typos you always make, certain phrases that have become your own personal cliches. Understand that about your own writing so you can go edit it out and clean it up later.
Read it out loud and correct as you talk. Before I complete a piece, I like to read it out loud slowly — often in a weird monotone voice that reminds me to say every single word on the screen — with my hands on the keyboard so I can correct as I go. Reading out loud is great throughout the editing process, but I find it particularly helpful for the final proofread.
I hope you found these tips helpful — go write faster!