One of the fastest ways to build authority in your industry is by becoming a thought leader. If you look at all the prominent thought leaders today, may it be Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuck, Neil Patel or Tony Robbins, they all share one thing in common:
They produce content frequently.
Yup. Regardless if it’s daily blog posts like Seth’s, or videos like Gary’s, or long-form guides like Neil’s or podcasts like Tony’s, one thing is true: they produce content for their target audiences regularly.
Now, as you can see, there are many forms of content.
If you’re a natural in front of the camera, go for the videos.
If you’ve a deep, mesmerizing voice and good storytelling skills to match, go for podcasts.
But one of the easiest forms of content that we often miss out, is the good old article writing. Which is what we’re going to talk about today.
THE EASIEST PATH TO AMPLIFY YOUR AUTHORITY
With videos, you’ll need some tools here and there to produce a decent video. And then, you’ve got to throw in the post-editing, clippings and trimmings, audio adjustments, and not forgetting the ever-time-consuming work of adding subtitles. Unless you have a team, I’ll let you know first: it’s not going to be easy.
With podcasts, well, having a good microphone is critical because your voice is the primary medium your listenings will be receiving the info from. You probably will need a quiet, soundproofed room as well. The blessing is, editing is minimal if you’ve got the right equipment and setup.
But with articles, well, quite frankly, all you need is Google Docs or Microsoft Word, or even the good old text or note pad that comes with your Windows or Mac. You already have a keyboard and a screen, so the equipment setup is literally zero.
If writing is so easy, why not most people do it? I mean, it’s just about firing up your favorite word processor and typing away, right?
Why, hello there writer’s block! How have you been?
THE PROBLEM WITH WRITING ARTICLES
If you ask me, it’s probably because this happened. Let me know if it’s familiar:
You opened your laptop, cracked your fingers, and breathed out a long sigh. You enthusiastically typed the word “Title:”. You type in a few more words, pause for a moment, and then immediately hit the backspace/delete key. You try again from another angle, and then pause to look at what you’ve typed. Nah… the delete key again.
After an hour, you’ve successfully written one word. “Title:”
You see, when it comes to writing an article, there are essentially three parts.
- Edit + Format
I’ll get into the first part in a bit, but parts two and three are where most people get it wrong. Blame it on the school system or your English Literature teachers, but the truth is, we mixed those two parts together, which caused us to get stuck.
In the defense of English Literature teachers everywhere, they did teach us right. Remember how they instructed us to draft your essays before writing it? We got lazy and decided that drafting is for amateurs and writing straight is more productive. See where it leads us, eh?
The truth is, even the pros will write a draft first, because the moment you try to edit and write at the same time, your perfectionist nature will kick in.
“Man, that sentence doesn’t sound sexy enough…”
“What’s a smarter synonym to this word…”
“The sentence is too long, or too passive, or too boring, or too unconversational…”
That’s why we tend to hit the delete or backspace button repeated (as evident in the faded label), in search of perfection.
Do you want to know how the perfect article came about?
Through numerous drafts and revisions, because you simply just cannot edit in a ‘vacuum’.
You have to start somewhere. You have to start writing the draft.
INTRODUCING THE 25-25-25 METHOD
I want to be the egoistic dude to say that I created this writing method, but truth is, it’s probably a mash-up of a few techniques and plain old common sense.
So we’ve already established the 3 parts of writing a piece of article, which again, are:
- Edit + Format
And for each of these three parts, you are to spend no more than 25 minutes on them. (we’ll get to that in a minute)
Now, this method is designed to help you produce articles of 600 to 1000 words, depending on your typing speed. You can modify it for thesis or report writing, but again, I have to stress it’s for medium-length articles.
The truth is the longer an article gets, the time it takes increases exponentially. The way to go around this is by breaking it into different sections, and writing those different sections separately.
THE FIRST 25 – RESEARCH
Now, you’re not producing a book or thesis or white paper. 25 minutes is more than enough time for you to do your research to write an 800-word article. If you’re writing in the areas of your familiarity or authority, heck, you may even think that 25 minutes is too long!
In the RESEARCH stage, just outline the few key points of your article. You can continue to expand each of the key points in shorthands and mini-sentences that only you understand. After all, it’s just an outline. You can reference other research pieces here, extract the sections you’d want to include, so you don’t have to go back and forth later.
Why 25 minutes?
Well, the mind is an adventurous creature. The moment you open a new browser tap in the name of research, without a timer and some form of discipline, three hours later, you’ll be watching a fake trailer to Avengers 5.
Setting the timer of 25 minutes is merely to keep you focused on the task at hand, because seriously, that fake trailer can wait.
Once you’re done with the research, take a quick 5-minute break to shift your focus, and also clear your mind. Close your eyes, and mentally surround yourself with the content that’s soon to be poured out in the next step.
THE SECOND 25 – WRITE
In a scene of the movie Finding Forrester, Sean Connery’s character, William Forrester, was mentoring a young but talented writer, played by Rob Brown. One thing that Mr. Forrester said stuck me until today, and is probably the single most important writing tip I ever received.
The key to writing is to write, not to think.
You are at the draft stage, so you will make mistakes. You will have the urge to reword your thoughts, or rephrase the sentences, or rewrite the paragraph. The key is, as William Forrester said it best, just continue writing.
It’s a habit you’ve got to break, if ever you want to write effectively.
Got the tenses incorrect? Screw it. You can fix it later. (Editor’s note: ahem, ahem)
Got your mom’s name wrong? She will forgive you.
You need to insert an intelligent word to make you sound intelligent? There’s time for that.
At this stage, it’s all about downloading. Putting your thoughts (that only you can see, mind you) onto that word document.
Because once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you’ll enter a state of flow, where you lost track of time, where you and the keyboard are the only things left in your immediate vision. The texts just flows; letters into words, words into phrases, phrases in sentences, sentences into paragraphs.
It’s almost like a semi-meditative state, which is probably right.
Notice how the hand is perfectly positioned to hold a very tiny pencil.
And before you know it, that 25-minute timer is up.
Now, you may want to stick to the time and wrap up your thoughts, which is good. But if you feel it in your guts that you can go on, throw that alarm clock against the wall and continue the flow. It’s a state not easily achieved, so why let time limit your creativity?
Seriously, you have a tremendous amount of content in your head: stories to thrill, lessons to teach, humor to share, ideas to inspire. In the beginning stages of your writing days, periods of flow are rare and hard to come by, so ride it while it lasts.
If you had been typing in the state of flow, chances are you’d produce about an 800- to 1000- word draft, depending on your typing speed. Good job! Now you’re ready to whip those words into shape!
If writing is a struggle, try dictating. Speech to text technology is very advanced now. As a matter of fact, the free version that comes with Google Documents is so accurate you’ll never have to type again!
Just like in school, sometimes having the teachers walking around with a cane is highly motivating. Ah, the good old fear-setting, or motivation by pain. It’s ok, we don’t have to admit how sadistic we all are.
If that’s your thing, check out TheMostDangerousWritingApp.com, a free tool that can help you get into the state of slow.
The premise of the app is simple. You set the timer, or the number of words you want to write, and hit ‘Start Writing w/o Prompt’. Start typing out your thoughts. When you slow down to think of what to write next, you’ll notice what you’ve written begins to fade out. Pause for too long, and indeed, everything you’ve written will be deleted. There’s no undo, and no way to select the text to copy and paste. Ouch!
You have no choice but to continue typing, even if your sentences are littered with mistakes. The objective is to build the moment and keep you writing, after all.
Now you know why it’s called the Most Dangerous Writing App?
THE THIRD 25 – EDIT + FORMAT
Wow, you’ve got yourself a draft now! It sure looks like it needs editing, but at least you’ve disciplined yourself to download your thoughts into that word document (save it first please).
Here’s where the editing starts.
Now, if you have the luxury of an editor (or editor friend) to help you clean up your drafts, that’s awesome. If you don’t, then software such as these will help:
All of them have their strengths and weaknesses, but I tend to stick with Grammarly, Ginger has a fantastic function called the Sentence Rephraser, which is useful if you want to do just that to make your writing sound better.
As you’re editing, you can also add on more content, or reduce the draft to refine your thoughts. Don’t get hung up with the number of words. People always ask me how long should an article be. SEO and technicalities aside, it should be just long enough to fulfill its objective, whether it’s to educate, entertain or engage your audience.
Even on the SEO front, articles that get engagements and shares are more likely to rank higher in search engines.
Let’s face it, you can write a 160-character tweet that is gold, or 160-page book that is crap.
When you are editing, you can also format your text with bullets, emphasis, numbering etc.
Use proper paragraphing and quotations to improve the readability for your readers. Bear in mind they are mostly reading on mobile devices these days, so ensure there are loads of spacing for the eyes. (Nobody likes blocks and blocks of text that seems to have no end!)
Add in images to spice things up, because as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a list of sites with free stock photos, but please credit the photographer as it will help build their profile.
- www.flickr.com (Creative Commons)
- www.Photopin.com (Easier Flickr searches)
THE OTHER METHOD
Well, if you think this 25-25-25 method is horse crap, you are welcomed to try another 3-step method I used to train myself on.
- Park your car in an unshaded area. The more sun you get, the better. Think of yourself as a solar panel.
- Switch off the engine, fire up your laptop, and start writing.
- You cannot open the door or window or switch on the A/C until you’re done with your draft.
Trust me, you’ll be surprised by the amount of content you can produce in the state of pressure. Like a pressure cooker, it sure brings out the best in you.
Of course, I don’t recommend this because, well, duh… it’s fatal.
If you practice this 25-25-25 method well, you will be able to produce an article in under 90 minutes, and not the 3 hours TITLE:. With practice, you will refine the process, and combined with discipline, you will be able to write an article every week, or even every day if that’s your objective.
And when these articles get circulated on the interwebs, before you know it, you’re the thought leader and authority in your space. You’ll make new friends and gain new fans, receive more inquiries, get invited to speak on platforms to further boost your visibility, and so much more.
Your doorway to stardom is just a series of 90-minute sprints, really.
p.s. Have you got a friend who always gives you the ‘writer’s block’ excuse and can’t seem to write, despite having all the fantastic thoughts in his or her head? Well, do them a favour by forwarding this guide to them. That way, when they become a best-selling author one day, they will credit your name in the first few pages. I’m sure it will feel so good!