Find Out About My War-Hardened Writing Workflow
One thing I’ve learned over the years is the importance of workflow. It releases my brain to do the creative or difficult stuff. Start here. Do this, then that, then that, then that and finally that. And I’ve got something live on the internet.
I’ve been writing since before the internet. That old? I guess so. But no typewriters were harmed in the production of this blog.
Just one more thing, this piece contains some affiliate links to services I use almost every day. The basic sites are free, but if you sign up for a pro account, I get a slice of the proceeds. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, of course.
Actually, there’s only one. I use the best tool I can find for the job. Even if it means I have more than one for similar jobs.
Stage 1: Fill your Inbox
I’m always capturing ideas. Many people swear by having a notebook with them at all times. It doesn’t work for me. I like to get my ideas straight into the digital domain, where I can tag them so I can find them easily later.
I use two inboxes for ideas:
- The fantastic Standard Notes. The most boring name imaginable, but it has a set of features that make it perfect for my purposes. It’s multi-platform, so I can use it on my office iMac, my Chromebooks and Linux laptop and most importantly, my iPhone, where it sits on my dock — bottom right, under my thumb. I love the fact that everything in Standard Notes is encrypted — see Keeping My Digital Stuff Private for why that’s so important to me. Although there are ways of posting web content to Standard Notes, it’s not part of the core and I see why. Standard Notes is beautiful as a digital notebook and no more
- Google Keep. Kind of used as I can’t find anything better as a simple bucket for web links. These days, it’s all I use it for (aside for the shopping lists I share with my wife). I used to like it because I can make a note into a Google Doc, but Google Docs is no longer part of this workflow. I tag or make notes to identify where they’re destined for.
Stage 2: Do the SEO
Stage 2 can be as deep or as shallow as you like. For the purposes of this piece, I’ll suggest you hop over to Answer The Public and look into the questions people are asking in search. This is the greater part of what SEOs call researching searcher intent, finding the people who are really interested in you, your services or products.
Once you’ve found some questions that apply to the piece you want to write, run with them. They’re the questions you should be answering as you write. You can also probably use one of the questions you find as the framework for your headline.
I’ll be writing more about SEO and Key Phrase Research in future pieces.
Stage 3: Writing
For creative writing — for me, that means not reports or proposals, YMMV — I use iA Writer (available for Mac and Windows as well as iPhone, iPad, and Android). I’ve used it for years on my Macs, and it’s one of those apps that hits a sweet spot perfectly for me — just like Standard Notes.
It’s a Markdown editor with a beautifully simple working screen, a well-chosen font (there’s a choice of three; set it and forget it). If you’re still using Word, Google Docs or Libre Office Writer, I urge you to try a Markdown editor. You should find a whole lot of the friction of writing melts away as you use it.
Some people are happy with a simple text editor — Markdown uses formatting in a text file. I shan’t go into the geek’s case for text files. It’s perhaps something for another post. But you can write in Markdown in a text editor.
But, for me writing in a text editor introduces another area of friction. The experience is ugly! If I’m going to sit in front of a screen for hours a day, it has to be a pleasurable visual experience — one of the reasons I use Apple, but that’s certainly one for another day.
At the other end, there are more fully-featured Markdown editors, such as Ulysses that are pitched firmly at pro-writers. Ulysses fails for me on two counts — Firstly, I don’t need its extra bells and whistles. I like iA Writer’s level of features.
And secondly, Ulysses has a subscription model. That’s a failure for someone who likes to use a range of software. I do pay for some software and services monthly or annually, but if I did that for all of them, it’d be a massive pain in my bank account. I like one-off payments.
Stage 4: Editing
I try to just write during my first draft. I put a structure in place with a first stab at a headline, plus a set of working subheadings to keep me from going too far off-piste.
As soon as I have a more-or-less finished draft, I’ll run a spell check. It’s a kind of line under the drafting process and clears up my sometimes terrible typing.
Ideally, I’ll print out the draft, clip the pages together and leave it on my desk for the next day. Putting time between drafting and editing makes the editing stage so much more efficient. Moving from screen to paper makes it easier to look at my writing with a reader’s eyes. Together, they make it easier to see structural, grammatical and spelling errors.
Next day, I grab a pen and go at it old-school. I then open the draft and work through my edits, sometimes adding some extra ones as I go.
Stage 5: Read for Grammar
Once I’ve edited, it’s cut and pasted into Grammarly for ‘another pair of eyes’ on my work. If you have a tame human with good editing skills to hand, use them, but I don’t.
Stage 6: Post
Once editing is complete, I find a featured image. Often from Unsplash, but sometimes one of my own photographs. I can also add further smaller images later on in the copy.
If I post first on davidrosam.com or writingforseo.org, I’ll often repost here on Medium. If I post first on Medium, then I may repost on davidrosam.com and/or writingforseo.org, canonicalised to Medium.
Stage 7: Post again
Once it’s live, I use Buffer and/or the SEMrush social media posting tool (there’s a whole lot more to SEMrush that you might like to explore, too) to schedule some links to the blog on Twitter and Facebook. If the piece is suitable, I’ll repost it on LinkedIn.
To recap: My writing workflow
- Ideas and reference capture in Standard Notes and Google Keep
- Drafting then spellchecking in iA Writer
- Editing on paper and then in iA Writer
- ‘Another pair of eyes’ in Grammarly
- Posting to WordPress or Medium directly from iA Writer
- Final tweaks in Wordpress or Medium
- Publishing (and republishing, in some cases)
- Tell the world about it using Buffer and SEMrush
Try it and tell me if it makes your life easier. Or, tell me your workflow and how it’s better than mine.