When you have a 2,000+ word article in your task list, how do you get it done? If you’re like me (and 95% of content writers), it’s intimidating. But I’ve figured out a way to write faster AND better without fear or stress.
And I want you to be able to do the same.
But first, a story…
How Do You Eat an Elephant?
I still remember the first time I heard this question.
I was in college, in the jazz band (tenor sax 😎). We were learning a complex bop piece with super long runs and tight harmonies. The sax section was collapsing under the pressure.
Our director, the late, great Doc Sherburne, looked straight at us. And he asked us that question:
“How do you eat an elephant?”
We stared at him, dumbfounded.
“One bite at a time.”
One Little Step After Another
The lights popped on, and suddenly we knew what to do. For the next hour, we tore that song apart.
Measure by measure. Run by run. Bite by bite.
By the end of that session, we had the toughest chunk of that song under our fingers.
By the following week, we could play the whole thing, full speed, comfortably.
Strategies to Write Faster and Better: 6 Simple Steps
If you have a huge task ahead of you, whether it’s a life goal, content creation, or planning strategy, take it one bite at a time.
Break it into sub tasks. Break those into mini-tasks. Tackle one idea at a time, then tie them together for the final product.
When I’m content writing, here’s how I tackle big ideas:
Copious pen-and-paper notes
Handwriting has a specifically strong effect on memory. It’s more than just a mode of recording. It’s a mnemonic device in and of itself.
Pen and paper has been my favorite medium for years. I can jot, doodle, and sketch out ideas without a ton of structure to restrain my process. Plus, I love using my fountain pens. 🤓
And handwriting has a specifically strong effect on memory. It’s more than just a mode of recording. It’s a mnemonic device in and of itself.
Almost all of my content writing starts with informal handwritten notes. I take time to record information, process it, and organize it.
Then I start typing.
Set up my document (templates are amazing).
I have a template I start with for my agency work. It’s not complex, but I know my heading and title styles. And I have a rough framework for my articles.
From this rough framework, I can build more complex ideas and structures. But I have a goal. I have limitations. And I have my look and feel ready to go.
When I was writing and recording music, I learned quickly that too many choices meant never making a choice. If I didn’t limit myself, I ended up panicking over making the “right” choice.
Limits free you from choice overwhelm. Set your limits so you don’t end up going forever into unproductive rabbit trails.
Structure my document (headings, subheadings, main ideas).
I like having a rough outline to work with before I start writing. I have my H2s, my lists, my H3s, and my basic content flow ready before I ever write a paragraph.
I do this for three reasons:
REASON 1: the outline helps me prioritize my energy. When I start writing, I already know what’s important and what I need to talk about. I don’t have to worry about how it all fits together.
REASON 2: the outline puts my content into a storytelling framework, from beginning to end. If what I’m writing doesn’t fit in that storyline, I have to think hard about whether or not it’s necessary at all.
If what I’m writing doesn’t fit in that storyline, I have to think hard about whether or not it’s necessary at all.
REASON 3: it’s a hack for my own productivity. More on this later…
Now, with research done, template set, and an outline on paper (or screen), I write.
If I run across something that flows with my thought process but isn’t in the structure already, I go back later and rewrite the headings.
(That’s perfectly acceptable, by the way. You can in fact change your mind. 🤯)
Save your intro and conclusion for last.
Don’t start with your intro. Wait until your article is almost complete. This one flip saves me oodles of time and stress.
That first paragraph always comes out better if it’s the last thing I write. Same goes for the conclusion.
Write the title.
That H1 you started with is probably garbage. Now’s the time to rewrite it to perfection.
I use a headline analyzer (through CoSchedule) to optimize my title. But simply writing it out a dozen different ways and changing it a few words at a time can get you there as well.
If you think you’re spending too much time on your title, spend a little more. Without a solid hook, your readers will never get to experience your great writing.
Get them hooked above the fold.
How I Hack My Productivity
I used to spend a lot of time sitting in front of a blank screen. I had always assumed the best plan of action was to sit down and write from beginning to end. And let the ideas come as I went along.
Now, I start with a list of points I want to make, ordered logically, and ready for content.
And I write much more quickly and effectively because of it. It almost completely eliminates writer’s block, and it can 3x my productivity. Here’s how.
Limits are key.
If I’ve already got a strong outline, I don’t have to figure out what to write next. I just drop into the next heading and write about what’s there.
Writing isn’t the difficult part. Knowing what to write about is the real struggle. And if you already know, you have one less struggle to worry about.
Order is no longer important.
I eliminated my “chronological order” paralysis when I started writing with my lists and outlines first. The flow of the entire document is preloaded, so there’s no need to start with an intro.
Honestly, intros are my last step most of the time. I’ll write every other section of text, then come back to summarize and tease what’s coming in the sections beyond that intro.
And I don’t just do this for the initial paragraph. Every first paragraph under an H2 gets the same treatment. They’re just smaller intros. It’s just much easier to summarize what you already have on paper. So I wait to do it last.
Pour your energy into headings and titles.
I mentioned this above, but it deserves more attention. Spend your energy where it counts most. Your body paragraphs aren’t that.
See, body paragraphs are descriptive and comprehensive. They are the details that people want when they’re diving deep into a problem-solution research venture. They’re not for people who want to get an answer and run with it.
Your headings (H1, H2, H3) are the core of your communication. Because the wider audience you want to reach is the audience that skims for quick solutions. By all means, go deep in your content. But don’t make people dig for answers.
Use your headings to describe big ideas, list key concepts, and provide quick answers. H2s often ask questions (and usually questions from search results and PAA sections). H3s offer answers or processes.
Your Outline is Your To-Do List.
This is my secret weapon. The tool that I can’t live without. My outline is the key to making everything else fit together properly. It’s my to-do list for smooth writing.
But outlines do something else:
They allow me to scoop up traffic from people who search for the text in my headings. They’re often directly pulled from SERPs and zero-position results. How simple is that?
Having my big ideas and basic structure in mind keeps me on the rails. I know where I need to go, and I know how I get there. It’s a tool I use in my home as well. If I want to keep on track and accomplish something each day, it goes on a list.
Ask my wife. My lists are the lifeblood of my productivity.
I can’t get through an elephant-sized task if I try to swallow it whole. So I break it down and set a guide for my own success.
Bite by bite.
Chunk by chunk.
Idea by idea.
What gets you through your elephants? Drop a comment! 👇