I know of writers and overall content creators who publish a new piece of content every day — and their work is usually good. But not always great.
I also know of creators who publish new content less frequently — and it’s always phenomenal.
And then there are those people who can crank out new stuff every day and CRUSH IT (meaning dominate, succeed, do a really good job) every time.
How do those superhumans do it?
Turns out they aren’t superhuman at all (disappointment). They’re just really good at taking a really big mess of a thing, trimming it down to something more compact, polishing it quickly, and getting it out there with just enough time left over to do it all again.
Writing in particular is a constant tug-of-war between producing a lot and producing exceptional content. It is very difficult, especially for those less experienced, to master both with every attempt.
So. Is it possible to ALWAYS do things well — and do them quickly, so you can eventually do more?
Yes … and no. Because let’s be honest, we all have those moments when we know whatever comes out of our brains in the next 60 minutes is going to be the best we can do, even if it isn’t, and that’s that.
But it’s possible to learn how to do more good work — balance quantity and quality, I mean.
It’s just going to take some time. And practice. And, of course, guidance.
And can’t help you on the time or practice front — that’s on you. But here’s some guidance, from someone who apparently writes a lot of really good things ….
You have to know what you’re diving into before you jump
I’m talking schedules and outlines here. Because way too many writers stare at a headline and run screaming in the opposite direction, too overwhelmed to think logically and creatively. You should ideally go into every week knowing exactly what, and maybe how much, you’re going to write when. (Whether you’re working on one big project or a dozen tiny ones.) This way, you can focus on one small piece of work at one time — and you can do that one piece of work well. When you’re trying to think about a thousand things at once, you might be able to get a lot done in one sitting, but it’s probably not going to be your best work. Time management, guys. It’s a life-saver.
Erase filler and fluff from your writing vocabulary
When I first started interning for a magazine — the first time I ever technically wrote something with a guarantee of getting published — my first draft came back with a lot of edits. Weirdly, most of them were just my section editor telling me to stop using the word “that” so much. With every draft that followed, she continued to point out my “that”s. And she kept doing it — until I stopped wasting so much space with such a useless word. (Example: “We know that filler words are unnecessary” should read “We know filler words are unnecessary”). You save a lot of time, and leave a lot of room for important information, when you stop cramming so much “extra” into everything you write.
Write Right has some perfect examples of filler words to kill off ASAP. (haha, notice how many of them I still use here — I am not perfect, you are not perfect, we’re all a mess.)
Decide what quantity means for you — and why it matters
When it comes to blog posts, I pretty much have two options. I can sit down on a Saturday morning and write one or two 1,000-word blog posts. If I spend two hours creating two blog posts, that’s two days of work off my checklist. I could also sit down and write four 500-word blog posts in the same amount of time, and put the same level of work into each one — but complete four days’ worth of work instead of two. For me, shorter blog posts are often favorable (depending on the context) because as long as they’re good, I can get more out of each one than I would with two longer posts.
Everyone is different. You might feel 500-word blog posts are a waste of time, and consider 1,000-word posts better quantity for your long-term goals. Really, your quantitative goals are whatever you want them to be. As long as you’re putting as much work as possible into each thing you produce, you’re doing both right. I know I need to produce seven blog posts per week. No matter what, I’m going to make those seven posts the best I can — making sure I hit that numeric goal while also maintaining quality.
Also, define quality
Every single publication has different standards for what counts as “quality” content. For me, a blog post isn’t worth publishing if I’m not leaving the reader with something to do or think about when they’re done reading. For others, quality might mean packing as much evidence-based information into 1,500 words as possible. What’s important is that you either know the right guidelines to follow or have your own in place. Quality is a measurement — meaning you have to have metrics with which to evaluate whether or not you’re doing your best work possible. I no longer publish posts that are just me complaining about stuff that irks me — because who does that really benefit? (Read: no one.)
Practice makes [closer to] perfect
I’m STILL getting better at cutting out filler and fluff, and I’ve been writing professionally for six years. It’s not something you can easily pick up and apply within a day. It takes a lot of rereading and rewriting, a lot of self-editing and closer evaluation of every single word you type on that page. The only way to get better at this is to keep doing it, over and over, until it clicks.
Figuring out how to best communicate a message comes after you’ve first written that message down. Remember, a first draft is never, ever your final draft.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.