To be an effective writer, spend more time planning and less time writing

content marketing for ad agency new business

Successful writers spend 75% of their time in the preparation and editing process and only 25% of their time writing the content.

There are big rewards from content marketing, but it’s also a big challenge. Writing is a process that takes time and effort. Even the best writers have difficulty putting their ideas into words.

Most of us aren’t born with the gift for writing. We have to work at it. 

According to a study conducted by McLuhan and Davies, a Toronto based consulting firm specializing in communications training, effective writers spend:
  • 40% of their time planning
  • 25% of their time writing
  • 35% of their time revising

Less effective writers usually spend:

  • 20% planning
  • 60% writing
  • 20% revising

Here is an easy to follow formula that will help fuel your writing:

1. Plan and Organize Your Writing (40%)

  • First and foremost, identify your target audience. Know who you are writing to and always keep them top of mind. Write from their perspective.
  • Reading will fuel your writing. Spend time locating resources that will provide the information and inspiration for your articles. As I’ve said many times before, use an RSS Reader such as to stream your writing resources into one location. It is a huge time saver.
  • Good content will require planning and organizing. Spend some time thinking before you start writing.
  • Understanding the purpose of your writing is crucial to clearly convey your thoughts.
  • Zero in on a Topic. Once you have your topic, try to narrow it down. I will ask myself questions to help narrow my topic down such as “is this a description? the characteristics of? the requirements for? the advantages in? the essentials of?”
  • Next you will need to gather information on your chosen topic.  You never are wasting time as you are gathering this support information. The more support information you can gather, the more effective your initial draft will be.
  • Start to organize the information you’ve collected to clearly highlight your message.

2. Writing the Initial Draft (25%)

  • Writing content for online is different from writing for print. A reader’s attention span is much shorter. That’s why I prefer using the inverted pyramid method of writing. Most of the important information is near the top of each post article. I usually recommend leading with the conclusion, a benefit statement.  Create it by asking yourself this question, “What is the reader’s primary benefit if they commit to read this article?” Then I answer the question in a single sentence and use it as a subtitle.
  • I’ve learned the hard way to just start writing. I’ve wasted hours staring at a blank slate. It’s far easier if I’ll force myself to begin putting my thoughts down on paper.
  • The following process helps me get off to a good start each time:
    • I’ll begin by creating the title, which will serve as a guide and subtitle.
    • I’ll then outline my article usually around 3 primary points, which helps the content to flow.  Too often writers find a strategic direction for their article after they are halfway through.
    • Once I have my title, subtitle and main points, I’m ready to fill in my outline. I’ve found that the quickest way to flesh out the rest of my article is to write fast. This isn’t a time for editing or sweating out every word.
    • I write the introductory paragraph which will give my reader’s the direction for the article. I’ll then fill in the details under the main points and draw from information that I’ve collected and organized in advance.
    • The last step in writing an article, I’ll create a brief conclusion and often add a specific call to action.

3. Editing, Revising and Polishing (35%)

Revising and editing your article are the next steps that will turn it into a document that is appealing to your readers.

Remember, 75% of your time is in the preparation and editing process and only 25% of time is spent writing the initial content. Inefficient writers spend less time planning and more time writing, but then they give little time to editing, revising and polishing their work.

David Ogilvy, one of the most famous names in advertising, said, “I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor.”

I’m my own worst editor. I usually have someone review and edit my initial draft. It is good to have some fresh eyes to make sure that I’m conveying my thoughts clearly and the article makes sense.  I’ll then make revisions from the edits, re-write sections and move copy around as needed. I’ll continue to tweak until the article is ready to publish.

Additional articles that you may find helpful:

What tips and insights have helped you to improve your writing? Share your experiences or any feedback that you may have below.

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photo credit: ilouque Found Blur Motion via photopin (license)

About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.

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