In his newsletter last week one of the godfathers of content marketing, Robert Rose, mentioned a statistic in a report from Orbit Media he’d stumbled across. The average time it takes to write a blog post, according to the report, is 3.5 hours.
Three-and-a-half hours! And that’s the average so, presumably, some writers are taking much longer than that.
Now Rose goes on to make some completely valid points. Firstly, quality can often take time. Secondly, sometimes inspiration hits and quality happens quickly. So really, an “average” of 3.5 hours is pretty meaningless.
All completely true. I don’t dispute any of this at all. (There’s a reason he’s a thought leader in this industry — he’s got the smarts.) But it got me thinking: What’s going wrong if it’s taking someone 3.5 hours (or longer) to write a post?
Now, I’m coming at this from the perspective of a career journalist. So bear that in mind. I’ve trained at this stuff and I’ve been doing it day in, day out for a very long time. I’m also an editor, so I have a pretty good idea of how long it should take someone to write a blog post, or article, or whatever else it may be. And, to my mind, 3.5 hours is way too long unless the piece is feature-length and involves several interviews, including transcribing them.
But, I hear you say, ‘quality takes time’. After all, as Rose points out, J.D. Salinger took a decade to write The Catcher in the Rye. True! But we’re not talking about creating a masterpiece of American literature here; we’re talking about a blog post.
What’s more, I’m not talking about shifting your focus from quality to productivity. Quite the opposite. I’m talking about increasing your productivity while maintaining the level of quality.
So here are some hints to help you cut down the time it takes to create excellent blog posts.
Are you really the right writer?
When you come up with an idea for a piece of content, ask yourself whether you (or the writer you plan to use) are actually the best possible writer for the job. What do you actually know about the subject? How quickly can you or your writer get up to speed on the topic?
Don’t just hand the brief to the person on your team who has a couple of hours to spare. You might be better off shuffling tasks around to free up a writer who could create that piece of content faster, more easily, and to a higher standard.
In a newsroom, this is the normal way of doing business. A chief of staff is very unlikely to hand a court reporter a political story, for example. They’d hand it to one of the politics team — or to a journalist who is familiar with the particular subject area in question. Play to an individual’s strengths.
Hire an expert writer for the subject matter
Sometimes getting up to speed in an area so you can write about it properly is going to be more trouble than it’s worth. If a blog post has medical or legal information, for example, it can be a minefield to navigate.
Don’t be afraid to outsource the writing completely. Find an expert writer in the field — someone who already knows the background or the broad subject area — and pay them to write it. It’ll cost you their fee, obviously, but consider what you’re saving: probably more than 3.5 hours of staff time, plus days of going backwards and forwards with your client until the copy is technically correct.
Tap into expertise and then edit
More often than not, you’ll already have the expertise you need on-tap. Perhaps they’re inside your firm; perhaps they’re inside your client’s firm. Can these experts do the writing for you?
Not everyone can write and many people find it daunting and time-consuming, but if your experts are happy to give it a go, that’s a good start. What they write doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s where you come in: you take on the role of editor. Tell them to “brain dump” all their thoughts and key points into a document and you’ll turn it into stunning prose afterwards. (Show it to them again before it is published, obviously.)
Newspapers have always done this. Opinion pages are filled with guest columnists who are thought leaders, professors, experts, etc., in one area or another. Sometimes these articles come through perfectly formed, sometimes they need knocking into shape.
Be a journalist
If your experts don’t want to write, or don’t have time, then interview them instead. Sit down with them for 20 minutes, or get them on the phone, and pick their brains. It won’t actually take all that long for them to explain something to you in terms you can understand.
If they’re very technical people and start talking in jargon or scientific terms, ask them to explain it to you as they would a 12-year-old. (That’s not meant to patronise — that’s literally what journalists do.)
Record the interview rather than taking notes, so you have their exact turns of phrase and terminology. It’ll make it easier to write. Even with interviewing and transcribing, there’s no reason a blog post of 400 or 500 words should take a good writer 3.5 hours.
Strike while the iron is hot
If you’re inspired by a topic, write immediately. Push other things to the side and crack on with it. When you’re inspired by a subject, the words just flow. It doesn’t have to be perfect — you can always go back and edit it later to get it perfect. Take it from an old journo: if the words are starting to come, if the ideas are forming, it’s better to hit the keyboard right away. It’s much easier than pushing though writer’s block later on.
If you’d like to work with an editorial team that understands how to get the very best out of writers and ensure every piece of content is of the highest quality, talk to the team at Lush Digital Media. Like what you’ve read? Sign up to the Lush newsletter for fortnightly advice to help you market your business better, tips from our video production gurus, and a podcast or two from our favourite podcasting team, Brand Newsroom. In the meantime, you might enjoy these: