Every month, I meet up with a group of content creators and onlinepreneurs in some raunchy Berlin cafe. We drink overpriced hipster lemonade, discuss marketing tactics, email-list building (drooling faces wherever you look) and of course, content creation. The last time, two entrepreneurs complained about how tough it was for them to create even 1,000 words of marketing material a day.
I told them my daily word count ranged between 3,000-6,000 words, after which their mouths flapped open like dungeon doors.
They thought I was messing with them, but since I’m a serious German, I showed them the principles that have turned me into a content producing powerhouse. Since a lot of you out there are also creating content for a living, I want to show the major ideas that help me write hundreds of posts and up to five novels a year.
1) This has nothing to do with talent
I cringe every time I see a famous author saying something along the lines of “you are either a writer, or you aren’t. You can learn only so much.”
That’s Balooney with a capital B.
Listen, I used to be a terrible writer. My mother, a former teacher of German Studies (before she became an artist), pretzled her mouth every time she proofread my school essays. She often ended up writing the essays herself because she didn’t want me to fail.
On top of that, my English teacher basically gave me a C+ because she felt sorry for my atrocious style but always stressed that she appreciated my efforts. I remember her words from my last year at school, “It’s a good thing you’re such a magnificent visual artist, because your writing talent is non-existent.”
Well, a decade later I’m making most of my income through writing. So what happened? Well, in short, I learned like a mofo. I copied my favorite screenplays and novels word for word, devoured grammar books on the English language and bought every ebook on storytelling. A decade and many battered keyboards later, I became a good writer through sheer training.
And if I can do it, you can do it…and you can do it even better.
2) Use the power of Kaizen
This is a famous principle, taught by legendary American management consultant W. Edwards Deming to help Japanese workers rebuild the shattered economy after WWII. In English, it means improvement in tiny steps.
The idea is to purposefully chunk your workload into tiny units which you can easily accomplish every day. So in the beginning, instead of writing 3,000 words a day and then slacking off for days, you only write a few hundred words within 24 hours but make sure it becomes a daily habit.
Here is my Kaizen at work over my five-year writing journey:
2010: average word count: approx. 200-400 words a day. Upgrade by 30-50 per month.
2012: average word count: approx. 500-600 words per day. See above.
2014: average word count: 800-1,200 words per day. Again, upgrade by 50-100 words per month.
2015: 2,500-5,000 new words every day.
So, I started writing only 200 words a day in 2010 and upgraded to about 3,000 words a day within five years. Sounds like a long period, but it has become an ingrained habit that’s hard to shake off. The goal is to replace “obsessive” days where you puke out thousands of words because you’re “inspired” in favor of gradual growth.
3) To battle inertia, back down to basics
I once read that in the military, they teach you to fall back on your basics whenever the going gets crazy on the battlefield. The goal is to function effectively even when you’re exhausted, beaten, or even shot at.
The same is true for content creation. When you’re tired, lack passion and just want to watch The Walking Dead, but you HAVE to produce, falling back to the basics will always ensure you can write on auto-pilot because you OWN the fundamentals.
Because good writing (at least in the Western World) is based on universal principles, let me give you some of my basic rules:
The rule of one…
One page, one call-to-action.
One blog post, one major lesson to teach.
One paragraph, one message.
One sentence, one idea.
When creating marketing communication, use the AIDA principle: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.
Make it readable
Target a freshman in high school reading level if you want to reach a mass audience with your writing. Use five dollar words over ten dollar words. There are many free apps out there to test the reading level of your content.
Active voice over passive
“She starts a business” is better than “the business was started by her,” because it is more stream-lined and thus easier to read and comprehend.
Use strong verbs instead of adjectives
“He sprinted all over the field” is better than “He ran swiftly all over the field” because it uses one word instead of two to express the same meaning.
Obviously, there are many more principles that cover the basics.
Two books that helped me nail them down: Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne.
Once you learn the fundamentals of effective writing, you will function even when fatigues and discomfort plague you.
4) Gamify your writing experience.
Legendary performance coach Anthony Robbins once claimed that daily, measurable progress is what makes people truly happy.
The more life experience I acquire, the more I have to agree with Tony. Nothing fuels my satisfaction like making progress in my writing. To leverage that, I have bought a writing software program called Scrivener to measure my progress.
I click on the “project target” icon, after which a window pops up asking for my word count for today. I type in 3,000 for example, which produces an empty bar, reminiscent of life bars in video games:
It slowly fills up the more you write. The bar colors from red to orange (few words), fades into yellow and finally changes to green (word goal met). This gamified feature alone increased my writing output, because I’m seeing the progress with every word I produce, which powers my passion. Whatever writing app you use, make sure it has a feature that visually tracks your writing progress.
You can only scale what you can measure.
I truly believe that everyone, and I mean everyone with a functioning brain, can easily produce a high level of content every day, no matter the niche. Society has taught us to believe in talent when it’s really skill and daily commitment that grows our content creation.
What one writing tip can you share that improves your daily content output?