The Business of Writing
Writing, especially as a business, comes with a whole set of issues. You’re probably familiar with some of these and have probably asked them of yourself:
- How do you handle writer’s block or procrastination?
- How do you build a team of quality writers to use whether for your own content marketing efforts or for client work?
- And what is the meaning of life anyways?
The last one is obviously 42.
Now, on to the more difficult ones.
Overcoming Writer’s Block
Writer’s block. The very words themselves are enough to send a chill down any writer’s spine. Unfortunately, the only tried and true method of overcoming it is to not get bogged down and just keep writing.
Maya Angelou is oft-quoted saying as much:
What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’
Sure, that all sounds great, but you’re probably in need of a few specific tips to get your creative juices going again and thawing your writing muse, so here are a few of my favorite resources on the topic:
- How to Overcome Writer’s Block, via Jeff Goins, including 14 creative tips for getting out of writer’s block
- 7 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block at Writer’s Digest
- And, of course, Copyblogger has some helpful resources: How to Beat the 3 Types of Writer’s Block and 3 Simple Steps for Staring Down Writer’s Block
As you peruse the resources above, while you’ll note a few common themes, each also provides a few different angles based on their personality, such as:
- Doing something that lets your brain turn off. Whether that’s going for a walk, playing with your cat, or distracting yourself with a silly YouTube video, removing the pressure of staring at the blank page (or the half-written sentence) can do wonders for breaking through the brick wall.
- Create a routine. If you write in a specific place, at a specific time, every day, it’s a strong signal to your brain. Creating a ritual around your writing–going to the coffee shop, or lighting a scented candle, or listening to a familiar playlist–tells your subconscious, “Okay, now it’s time to write.”
- Write something–anything. It doesn’t have to be related to your current project. You can literally write anything, whether it’s about your day, or nonsense words (reread Dr. Angelou’s statement above!), or “I am a writer, I can do this, dangit” over and over again.
The second enemy of the writer is procrastination. Writing can be daunting, so you may find yourself searching for excuses not to do it. There are several ways to work around this. For one, you can use it to your advantage. Trying putting off work on one particular piece in exchange for editing another piece.
One of the common causes of procrastination is not knowing specifically what your next step is. Instead of putting “Write article for XYZ” on your to do list, break it down into bite size chunks, like so:
- Pitch article
- Outline article
- Research sources for article, and add them to the outline
- Write article
- Edit article
- Brainstorm headline ideas for article
- Pick the best headline
- Send to client (or schedule in blog)
Each of those is a task in and of itself, and breaking it up like this makes the piece as a whole look less overwhelming. You know exactly what you need to do next, so you’re spending less time getting started–with nothing but a blank screen staring back at you.
Another tip: modify your environment so it’s actually harder to procrastinate. For example, if your phone often distracts you while you’re writing, turn it off or set it to “do not disturb” before you start writing. Of course, this depends on you being self-aware enough to notice how you procrastinate. Chances are, you know what your top two or three procrastination weaknesses are and can tactically block them before they start.
Furthermore–avoid social media! They’re just a huge time-suck. Who amongst us hasn’t gone to Facebook as a subconscious distraction, only to look up and realize we’ve just spent the last three hours looking at cat gifs and stalking old high school flames. Lucky for you, the wonders of technology mean that if social media is your number one procrastination tool, you’ve got a few ways to block it during your work hours.
Here are some apps you can use to block social sites:
- ColdTurkey is a Windows app with a suggested donation of $10. It completely blocks any distracting sites during selected time windows–it doesn’t matter what browser you use or if you restart your computer.
- SelfControl is a similar (free) app for Mac.
- StayFocusd is a Chrome extension. You can use it to either limit your social media usage (for example, one hour of Facebook a day). Or you can use it to block social media sites (or your email, or any other site) from the hours of 9-3 (or whenever your most productive hours are).
- LeechBlock is a similar extension for Firefox.
Want more tips on beating procrastination? Check out “Can’t Start, Won’t Start: Tricks for Overcoming Procrastination” at 99U.
As your business grows, you’ll likely need to start finding writers, editors, and researchers to assist and optimize your increased workload.
Scaling any kind of service comes with challenges–most notably in the area of quality. Here’s how to scale your writing process with exceptional talent and avoid losing sleep:
What to look for when it’s time to expand your writing team:
- A professional portfolio. A professional writer or researcher, especially one that primarily works in the digital space, should have a portfolio site that explains their background, with links to several writing samples. If the portfolio site has typos, is hard to read, or lacks work samples, it’s a huge red flag.
- Professional communication. Pay particular attention to their communication with you. Much like with the portfolio site, incoherent or unprofessional emails don’t bode well for quality writing down the road.
- A decent response time. Most top notch freelancers are in high-demand, so expecting instantaneous email responses is unreasonable. On the other hand, if they’re consistently taking several business days to reply to emails during the discussion/preliminary phases of a project, you’re probably getting a good sample of the future. Even worse, it can be a strong indicator that they’re not great at managing their time and their work may not be reliably delivered on time.
The going rates will vary substantially depending on the writer, their skill set, their experience, their locational cost of living, how fast they’re willing to work, and the niche within which they work. Fifteen cents a word is about the bare minimum you can expect to pay, and it goes up from there. To have a skilled native-English-speaking writer, you should budget for much more. Researchers tend to charge hourly or by the project.
Where to find skilled writers and researchers:
- Job boards: Sites like ProBlogger, WeWorkRemotely, Flexjobs, and so on. Generally these sites cost money to list at and the fees vary, but you’ll usually get higher quality applicants overall. The larger the job board’s audience, the larger the influx of applicants you’ll get–ProBlogger’s job board in particular tends to create a deluge of applicants, not all of which are necessarily high quality.
- Elance, Guru, and similar marketplaces: The problem with many of these marketplaces is that they’re a mix of experienced applicants and overseas or low quality applicants. It’s a virtual guarantee that a job posting here means you’ll have to sort through applications that vary wildly in quality. The other issue is that people who are highly skilled and experienced don’t typically spend a lot of time pitching gigs on these sites, because they have such a reputation for being overrun with low-priced jobs.
- Search: Are you looking for a local freelance writer? Or a freelance writer with a specialty in a particular area? One easy way to start your search is simply googling “freelance writer [+niche] [+location].” Of course, you should seriously consider whether a local writer is necessary. Unless in-person meetings are an absolute must, narrowing your search to local professionals is unnecessary.
- Ask for referrals: You know other professionals in your industry; ask them what writers they’ve worked with and were impressed by, or which ones they’ve heard great things about.
Here’s a few critical questions you should ask when you’re talking to a freelancer:
- What’s your typical turnaround time?
- What are your office hours?
- What invoicing schedule do you work off of, and what’s your preferred payment method?
There aren’t necessarily any right or wrong answers to these questions. This process is about managing expectations on both sides. If you expect a 48 hour turnaround time from outline to completion (which, unless previously discussed, is a pretty quick turnaround time), but the writer typically takes a week, and you don’t discuss that ahead of time, both parties are going to end up stressed out.
Last, but not least, when it comes time to hire a writer or researcher, always plan on doing a trial run of either 1-3 pieces, or 30 days (whichever you’re more comfortable with). Having a set trial period lets both of you re-assess expectations at the end and makes it much easier and more natural to bring up any concerns.
Writing is Working
If you expect to make a living from your writing then you can’t neglect the business aspect of writing. Like any exceptional business, you need to first create an exceptional product. Then, you should design systems that allow you to scale that product with repeatable, reliable quality.
The business of writing has never been more lucrative. Quality writing and authors have always been the gold standard of search engines (web traffic), but in the past, SEO tricks have often foiled Google’s attempts to serve only the best content.
But things are a’changin’. Google is getting better and better at pinpointing the best writers, content, and websites. That simple fact is driving up the value of your product–quality writing.