7 Tips for Writers Drowning in a Sea of Unwritten Content

7 Tips for Writers Drowning in a Sea of Unwritten Content

The blank screen. The huge list of content to create. The intense desire to hide under the duvet.

You’ve got so much writing to do.

But your life is packed full. You don’t have enough time.

So you get more behind every day.

What’s worse, every other blogger you know seems to have no problem churning out post after post after post.

Are you the only one who struggles with their writing workload?

Don’t believe it for a second.

If your biggest problem is not having enough time to write, you’re perfectly normal. Almost every blogger out there feels the same way.

Why Every Blogger Feels Short of Time, Most of the Time

Bloggers struggle with a lack of time even more than most writers.

  • We have tons of content to produce: not just posts for our own blogs, but guest posts for other people’s blogs, freebie incentives, ebooks, ecourses, social media updates …
  • We have a heck of a lot of distractions: social media, endless emails, comments to moderate and answer, people to network with, and the inevitable and unwelcome techy headaches that go with running a blog …
  • We have other work to do: either a day job – full-time or part-time – or an income stream (like coaching, or creating information products, or doing client work) that takes up most of our time.

So how do we get it all done?

Well, most bloggers simply don’t.

They lose momentum with their own blog, posting so infrequently that readers drift away. They rarely or never guest post. They don’t even make enough money to cover their hosting bill.

Eventually, they quit blogging altogether.

Are you slipping down that path too?

Trust me, I get it. Overwhelm can crush your writing spirit. You can only fight to keep up for so long. And even as you struggle on day by day, the temptation to give up grows and grows.

And yet … some bloggers do manage to make a huge splash.

They make the time to write – a lot. They constantly learn and improve.

They grow an audience. They get noticed. They make money.  It’s hard work, sure, but it’s incredibly rewarding to meet your goals and live your dreams.

So don’t let your blog become yet another abandoned, dusty corner of the Internet.

Don’t let your dreams fade and die.

Here’s how to regain control of your writing schedule and turn things around:

Tip #1: Step Away from the Keyboard

When I’m faced with far too much writing and far too little time, sometimes I look at my to-do list, take a deep breath, and …

… panic.

No, I’m not recommending this. 😉 Panic-based writing really isn’t a good idea.

But maybe you’ve seen this in your own work. You glance at your writing to-do list, immediately get a knot in your stomach, and then leap at the computer and type as fast as you can on whatever topic appeals at that moment.

You start at a breakneck pace, and you keep going without pausing to reflect.

An hour later, you realize that you hate the topic you chose, and you don’t have enough material for a post anyway. Maybe you should just practice plastering a smile on your face and asking, “Would you like fries with that?”

A week later, you realize you forgot some crucial part of your content calendar (which exists only in your head) and wonder if anyone noticed.

Confession time: after returning from maternity leave and diving back into things, a month passed before I noticed I hadn’t sent out a single issue of my supposedly weekly email newsletter … oops.

So don’t panic. Instead, take another deep breath, and step away from the computer.

Grab a pen and paper, and write down any of the following:

  • Regular writing commitments. Daily, weekly or monthly. Blog posts. Email newsletters. New modules for your week-by-week ecourse. Ideally, use this as a basis for a content calendar, where you include a title (or at least a topic) for each piece of regular content over the next month.
  • One-off writing commitments. Guest posts. Email interviews. Individual client projects, if you’re a freelance writer. You may want to merge this with your content calendar or have two separate ones: whatever works for you.

I like to plan on paper because it helps me focus. Here’s what I’ve got on my plan for the next couple of weeks:

productive writer planner

If you can’t get everything done, figure out where ditching or delaying content will do the least harm. Your blog will probably be fine without a post this week – but that guest post you’ve promised to an editor really needs to get in by the deadline, or you’re unlikely to be invited back in the future.

Tip #2: Stop Committing to So Much Writing

If you’re constantly struggling to fit your writing into the time you have available … you’re trying to do too much.

Well, duh. You knew that already. Except it seems to keep on happening.

If taking on too much is a recurring problem for you, you need to work on saying “no” – not just to other people, but to yourself.

Chances are, you’ve already got too much on your plate. So while you’re building your “no” muscles, try the following:

  • Ask for extra time with guest posts or client projects (especially if the scope has increased beyond what was initially discussed – this gives you a good excuse). You definitely shouldn’t make a habit of doing this, but it’s better to be up-front and renegotiate a deadline rather than miss it entirely.
  • Cut down on how much you write for your own blog or newsletter. You could either do this by posting and emailing less frequently, or by writing shorter pieces. If you’ve never asked your readers how often they want to hear from you, find out: by blogging daily when they want two posts per week, you may well be losing readers as well as clogging up your writing time.
  • Reuse old material. This could be as simple as linking to posts from your archive, or it could mean dusting off an old post, updating it, and republishing it. If you’ve been blogging for a while, many of your readers probably have never read some of your early posts.

Saying “no” can be really tough, especially if you’re worried about missing out on a potentially great opportunity, or if you’re anxious not to offend anyone.

But it’s how you say “no” that matters. Do it right and you’ll protect yourself from writing overload without closing any doors.

How to Say “No” While Leaving Room for a “Yes” Later (on Your Terms)

A quick Google search will give you plenty of advice on saying “no” – but here’s one simple trick that works for me:

Whenever someone asks you to write a guest post (or reply to interview questions, or take part in a podcast…) just respond like this:

Thanks so much for thinking of me! I’m really busy right now, but I might have some time in a couple of months. Could you drop me a line in [month] and I’ll see if I’ve got space in my schedule?

This way, the onus is on them to remember to ask you again (and often they won’t). If you decide, belatedly, that you actually would love to take them up on that opportunity, simply email again:

I’ve had a bit of time open up in my schedule, and wondered if you’d still like me to [write a guest post for you / be an interviewee on your blog / etc]? If so, just shoot me the details and I’ll be glad to help!

You can use this technique on yourself too. Any time you’re about to take on a new writing commitment, stop, tell yourself you’re going to wait a few days before committing, and put a note in your calendar to review at an appropriate point.

Also think about how valuable each finished piece of content is. Sure, it’s important to blog regularly, but if skipping a couple of posts this month means you can finish your opt-in incentive, that’s probably an even better use of your time.

Tip #3: Use Your “Weird” Time to Sneak in Some Writing

Your life might look nothing like mine. (Right now, a good amount of my time revolves around two young children, mountains of laundry, and washing-up created in their wake.)

It’s a safe bet, though, that your life – like mine – involves some “weird time.”

Weird time (hat-tip to Naomi Dunford’s fab marketing newsletter for introducing me to the term) includes all those little pockets of time where you’re stuck waiting for something.

You’re sitting in the car, waiting for pick-up time at your kid’s school.

You’re sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, waiting for your appointment.

You’re sitting on the sofa, waiting for an ad break to end.

It’s easy to use weird time to flip through a magazine or stare into space or look at Facebook on your phone.

But nothing’s stopping you from using it to write.

Sure, your pockets of weird time might be really small. But maybe, on an average day, you have a total of ten minutes or so.

You could use that time to jot down a bunch of ideas for blog posts or outline posts based on previous ideas. Keep a little notebook and a pen in your pocket or bag and you’ll never have to stare at the clock in your dentist’s waiting room again.

By the end of a week, you’ll have clocked up a good hour of brainstorming and planning – and that could be all you need to get back on top of all your writing.

Multitask During Mundane Time

A not-too-distant cousin of weird time is mundane time.

Mundane time is the time you spend doing the dishes or driving to your day job or picking up the kids’ toys or running on the treadmill.

It needs doing. It takes your physical presence but not necessarily much of your mental presence.

Mundane time doesn’t gel well with writing – your hands are probably occupied – but it’s an ideal opportunity to learn more about writing, blogging, or business.

If you’ve bought any audio seminars or webinars that you’ve failed to listen to, load them onto your phone or tablet so that you can fire them up during your next chunk of mundane time.

Otherwise, just subscribe to some good podcasts that help you with your goals. I’m currently enjoying This is Your Life (Michael Hyatt),  The Creative Giant Show (Charlie Gilkey), The Creative Penn podcast (Joanna Penn), and the new ProBlogger podcast (Darren Rowse).

Alternatively, if you’re keen to use this time to create, try recording audio notes or outlines for blog posts using your smartphone or a digital recorder.

Tip #4: Ditch and Streamline Your Non-Writing Tasks

You’ve almost certainly got some blog-related tasks eating up what could be good time – things like replying to emails, being active on social media, uploading posts, and so on.

The usual advice here is to hire an assistant. And if you can afford to do so, please go ahead! But if you’re blogging for passion not profit, or you want to make money but are barely scraping together enough income to cover the hosting bill, hiring an assistant might be a bit out of reach.

Instead …

Set Expectations about Response Times

Set expectations – yours and other people’s.

With emails, you might want to include something on your contact page along the lines of “I normally reply to emails within 48 hours” to let readers know what to expect from you. That way, you can respond to emails in one batch, rather than dropping everything to answer each query as it comes in.

With comments, holding back from replying instantly can give your readers space to interact with one another, and you may find that you build a stronger community on your blog with a slightly “hands off” approach. People will learn not to expect you to reply right away.

And trust me, you do not need to be checking Facebook and Twitter every few minutes. Followers do not expect an immediate reply, and the nature of social media is such that you don’t have to reply to everything.

Just remember, social media can be a distraction – and it pulls you out of the flow of writing.

Get More Efficient

Have specific times of day for certain tasks. You might, for instance, read and reply to emails at 11:00 am and 4:00 pm every day. You might only go onto social media sites during coffee breaks (set an alarm to go off after 10 minutes, so you don’t lose track of time).

And, on a social media note, don’t spread yourself too thin. Posting on five different social media sites is pointless – pick the one or two where your core audience is most likely to be active, and just use those.

Develop Processes for Repeated Tasks

You probably have all sorts of tasks that you do on a daily, weekly, or at least monthly basis. Even if these only take you a few minutes each time, that time adds up.

A clear process not only saves you time, but it also prevents you from forgetting crucial steps, and it means you can more easily hand over the task to an assistant in the future.

For instance, you could use the following:

  • Canned (template) responses for emails. If you find that readers email you the same questions repeatedly, come up with a simple response that you can customize easily. I use the Gmail extension Canned Responses for this, and I find it invaluable.
  • Checklists for tasks such as sending out your email newsletter. It’ll save you time and help you be consistent. You’ll also avoid embarrassing mistakes (like broken links that you forgot to check). Keep this wherever makes most sense for you: I use the notebook section of The Journal from DavidRM Software; you might prefer Scrivener, Google Docs, or even a Word document.

Here’s the checklist I use for sending out weekly emails to my Writers’ Huddle members:

Weekly Emails

Checklist:

  • Copy last week’s email.
  • Change subject line.
  • Change date.
  • Follow pattern below for content.
  • Change latest seminar in footer if 1st Monday.
  • Test.
  • Schedule for Monday, 11:15 am Eastern.

Huddle emails pattern:

  • 1st Monday – new seminar announcement
  • 2nd Monday – seminar reminder; if you enjoyed this seminar, you might also enjoy…
  • 3rd Monday – this time last year…
  • 4th Monday – this time two & three years ago…
  • (5th Monday – mini-course to check out)

Tip #5: Focus on the Quality of the Result, Not the Quantity of the Writing

In the blogosphere, you can get caught up in numbers easily. Perhaps you find yourself focusing on how many posts you’ve written, or how many words you’ve written … and that could be taking your attention away from what matters.

Would you rather write ten so-so guest posts that bring you twenty new readers each, or write one fantastic guest post that brings you two hundred new readers (and the attention of some big name bloggers)?

Either way, the numbers are the same: you get two hundred new readers. But writing ten posts – even ten hasty posts – probably will take you longer than writing one. Plus, pouring your heart into that one great post will be much more rewarding.

When you’re setting your goals, look for alternatives that will take less time but net you similar (or perhaps even greater) rewards.

That might mean the following:

  • Spending three hours on a single weekly blog post, not five hours on five daily posts.
  • Sending out a monthly newsletter with great fresh content, not a weekly one with a couple of sentences and a few links.
  • Producing one great ecourse as an opt-in incentive, rather than a library of five mini ebooks.

Don’t get me wrong; quantity still matters.

Five guest posts going up in a single week will make more impact than five posts going up across five months. But simply being prolific won’t be enough to make you successful – and doing so could easily make you burn out fast.

Tip #6: Stop Waiting – Use Your Best Ideas Now!

Maybe you’ve got some great ideas that you’re sitting on for now … until your blog is bigger. Until you have the right guest posting opportunity. Until you feel ready to write them.

But by ignoring the ideas you already have, you’re forcing yourself to spend time coming up with even more ideas – time that could be spent writing the ones you already have.

So stop saving your best ideas for some perfect future time. You can – and will! – have more great ideas in the future. By using the great ideas you already have, you’ll stretch the mental muscles for coming up with new ones.

Plus, those big opportunities might not come at all until you’ve written the best posts you’re currently capable of.

It’s only by writing your best posts that you grow as a writer – so that the next time you have a great idea, you can make even more of it.

When you’ve exhausted your best ideas list, it’s time to generate some more. Try the following:

  • Stop waiting for the muse to strike. Intentionally brainstorm new ideas. “Weird time” is good for this (see above). You may struggle to allow yourself time to play around with ideas and research when you’ve got loads of words to write … but strong ideas make for easy-to-write posts.
  • Survey your readers to find out what they want to read. This may well surprise you. One of my most popular posts, 7 Habits of Serious Writers, was suggested by a reader comment. I used the title word-for-word and acknowledged them in the post.
  • Revisit the ideas you threw on the scrapheap. Even your so-so ideas might, with a little bit of work, become something truly special.

Step #7: Become a Super-Productive Writer by Batching Similar Tasks

You probably already know it’s a good idea to batch routine tasks together – replying to a bunch of emails at once, rather than answering each as it comes in, for instance.

While writing is a bit more creative than many other tasks, you can still use the batching system.

The different stages of the writing process – coming up with ideas, creating plans, drafting, and then editing – can be tricky to do one after the other. Some involve more creative energy (ideas, drafting) and other are more analytical (plans, editing).

So, instead of starting with an idea, going straight from that into a plan then a draft, and so on, try this week-long plan. (Feel free to tweak the timings to suit you.)

  • Monday (am): Come up with 10 ideas for your blog and 10 ideas for guest posts.
  • Monday (pm): Write outlines for five posts for your blog and five guest posts.
  • Tuesday and Wednesday: Draft several posts over two days. Just pick an outline you wrote yesterday, copy it into your document (or the WordPress editor), and start writing. Having something down on the page is a huge psychological boost.
  • Thursday: Edit your posts, looking for ways to add greater value to the reader – e.g., by including clear action steps, or links to further information.
  • Friday: Proofread and publish your posts – or if they’re guest posts, submit them to the blog editors.

Batching tasks like this may feel unnatural at first (for instance, when you finish the first draft of a post, you may feel the urge to edit it right away), but frequently switching gears between different types of tasks can be hugely inefficient.

And think of it like this, how will you improve your productivity unless you try something that feels different? Doing the same things will lead to the same results.

What Will YOU Do Differently This Week?

No blogger ever feels they have enough time to write. (If you think it’s different for the big names, check out this post by father-of-three Darren Rowse.)

If you want to be more productive, be more proactive.

Get focused on your goals, look for crafty ways to achieve more with less work, and streamline your writing process as much as possible.

You don’t need to try every one of the tips above right away – but if you can get even one or two of them implemented in your writing life, you’ll see a huge difference.

So this week, choose one idea from the post to put into action. Write it down, commit to it, and review how your writing’s going in a week’s time.

Don’t let overwhelm drag you down. Get back on top of your writing.

And soon other bloggers will look at your writing output and wonder:

How on earth do they do it?

About the Author: Ali Luke pops up on blogs all over the web, but her home base is Aliventures, where you’ll find her weekly posts about the art, craft and business of writing. Her free seven-week ecourse, On Track, is for any writer or blogger looking to get going again with a big project that’s stalled.