Here's my answer.
1. I'm subscribed to a ton of ezines and blogs.
As an “expert” (if I dare call myself that) in my field, I must keep abreast of my industry — so should you. But the wonderful byproduct is that something I've read will stir a few ideas in my mind about something worth writing.
The gazillion of ezines and blogs to which I'm subscribed are filtered in my software (both email and RSS readers) into folders for later reading. What I do, however, is filter such articles for keywords that I decide, in advance, about which I feel there's a need to write.
As for my RSS reader, I use FeedDemon.com. The beauty with FeedDemon is that is not only synchronizes your feeds with the online service NewsGator, but it also has filtering capabilities such as a “bin” (i.e., folder) for copying posts that mention a particular keyword, such as my name, “copywriting,” “Internet marketing,” “salesletter,” and so forth.
But it also has an external keyword-based blog search (on Technorati, Google Blog, del.icio.us, MSN, and more). What it does is search blog networks for a specific keyword or phrase (that's how I know people talk about me in the blogosphere, for example) that I can file for later retrieval.
It gives you the ability to copy specific posts in a “Newsbin” and even flag/label specific posts. Whenever I want to post about a topic, I can do a simple search through my 300+ feeds for posts that contain a specific tag or keyword, and copy the results to the news bin, for later perusal.
As for email, copies of all the email ezine issues I receive are filtered into a master folder (i.e., the filtered email is moved into its appropriate folder for later reading and a copy is also placed into this master folder, both simultaneously — most email filters or rules do this ). In my master folder, I do a text-based search for certain keywords (e.g., topics, ideas, events, etc) about which I can write.
2. I create a skeleton article or post.
Then, I create an outline. To do this, I write down keywords or keyphrases, in point/bullet form, representing future paragraphs or phrases, and the subjects I'd like to cover in those paragraphs or idea blocks.
This allows me to see, at a glance, the flow of the article and then reorganize them so there's a better structure and organization of ideas. As you know, some points within an article are best mentioned in strategic locations within the article, and the outline allows me to do exactly that, even before I start writing.
Writing keywords in bullet form and then expanding those keywords into full paragraphs is the easiest way for me to write — it may not be for most people. For me, though, since the keywords or keyphrases are based on specific topics, the flow seems natural and I can see, quickly, if there is cohesiveness within the article.
What I do is follow the three major steps:
- Body (Content)
It comes back to that famous rule: “Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em,” “tell 'em,” and then “tell 'em what you told 'em.” But let's take a look at each element in detail.
I'll start with something that announces the topic, prepares the reader and gently takes them into the body of the article — something that “tickles” them in order to pull them into the article. (Creating headlines is last for me.)
This is also used as an excerpt when I post to my blog, particularly when you hit the front page. (By the way, you may not know this, but the excerpt, which is the first 80 words or so, are also automatically incorporated into the meta-description tag of the page's HTML code.) Ultimately, using introductions as a way to get people to start reading is crucial.
b) Body (Content):
Then I prepare the core components of the article (usually, it will be three main points, expanded, and I often use headings for these three core components). Generally, I resort to the use of adverbs as bases for expanding on the topics — my “five honest serving men,” as the saying goes, “which are who, what, why, where and when.”
Now, a paragraph is not entirely dedicated to one question, as it may be covered in other places within the article, and in a strategic location that flows better with the thought process I want the reader to have while they are reading it. But I do make sure the article covers most if not all of them.
It's a recap or summary of the article, with a final word — like the “moral of a story,” “final analysis,” or “bottom-line,” offering an actionable step, a question upon which to ponder or a cliffhanger (maybe leading to another article).
In terms of software, I use TextPad, which is a text editor. (I never write articles directly into the blog or HTML software, lest my connection goes down and I lose everything I wrote. I also don't use Microsoft Word or any other word processor, as copying them into my blog or website may also copy junk created by the software's proprietary code.)
I've been using TextPad for years, now. It's like Notepad but on steroids. It has a spellchecking feature with a lot of macros, file managing functions, integrated character maps, etc. Even HTML tags and split windows when writing various parts of the same article, at the same time. It also has a hard-break feature so that I can split-wrap my articles at 65 characters — which is the norm.
3. Then, I just write.
I temporarily put my “critical editor” hat aside and I just keep writing, non-stop. I don't even stop to read what I've written. I just write! Once done, I stop, read again and edit for style and grammar — of course, with the kind help of my TextPad's spellchecker.
Sometimes I'll take whole sentences out and add new ones in. I'll rewrite passages I feel aren't clear. I'll cut and paste some paragraphs where I feel they belong best. (In fact, after writing a bit I can see where my outline, created earlier, may need a bit of revamping.)
And then bingo: The final product.
As for the frequency, I write all the time. What I often do is prepare a ton of skeleton articles in advance and save them for future use. (I do this with Microsoft OneNote, which is a fabulous piece of software that allows you to save clippings, audios, videos, URLs, notes, comments, you name it.)
I use Thunderbird (from the folks at Firefox) for my email. The neat thing is that I can create new “temporary” filters. Ezines are filtered into temporary folders in order to research more information on the topics I'd like to cover. From there, I move copies of specific articles that match a keyword search into new temporary folders for research in creating future articles.
I can jot down URLs and specific data pertaining to articles — when I don't use OneNote, I sometimes send an email to myself with the notes I've made and have them filed in those specific “temporary” folders.
While I seem to be using Microsoft OneNote more these days, there are several freeware desktop note-making applications on the web, such as notes software from 3M, the makers of Post-It Notes. (There's also Google Notebook, as well as some of the social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, that do the same.)
I also have with me, most of the time, a small tape recorder or notepad (a cellular phone and Palm Pilot are also good for taking notes). I record some thoughts that pop into my head from time to time.
I'll give you an example: I'm driving to a client. While in my car, I listen to the news. Then all of sudden, bang! An idea hits me. I'll record it immediately and use that as a basis for an article — or for that week's blog post, for example.
I also frequently use a service like iDictate.com. After opening an account, I get a 1-800 number and, after calling in and dictating my “thoughts,” a few hours later I get a transcription by email. This is absolutely perfect when I'm on the road. (I also use it to write copy for salesletters, too.)
4. I edit, edit and edit some more.
In terms of proofreading, what I do, when I have a chance, is have my articles read by my wife Sylvie, friends or associates. Often, they see things I don't see. I miss things that are blatantly obvious but overlook them since I tend to read my article the same way I wrote it.
In fact, the best method, I've found, is to read the article slowly, to myself, out loud. Really! If I notice that my speech slurs or fumbles at some point in the article, or that a passage just doesn't sound right, then I know that something was poorly written and I'll rewrite it for clarity.
I've used dictation software before, but I don't use it normally. (I prefer iDictate.com. You don't have to train it like software, as it's transcribed by real human beings. I talk more than I write, and as a professional speaker and storyteller, I talk a lot :). So iDictate is a godsend for me.)
Finally, I regularly spend 18 to 20 hours a day on my computer and on the web. Like I said, I read and write a lot. I'm a virtual sponge. And surfing the web, believe it or not, is one of the most creative processes in which I engage myself.
Some people call me “expert” or “guru.” I hate that. In reality, I'm more of a perpetual student. I read intensely and love new ideas and trends. But I scan a lot, too. I usually receive about 2,000 emails and blog post notifications a day (I'm not kidding), two-thirds of which are ezines and blogs in the areas of copywriting, marketing, Internet marketing and sales.
Creativity is known to be one of my biggest talents — as a copywriter and marketing consultant, creativity is a must. But in terms of writing articles, it's as necessary as oxygen. I always like to write about either what hasn't been written or something that's been scarcely written. (You know as I do that the web is filled of recycled, rehashed content.)
However, it doesn't have to be new per se. What stirs that creativity is often not something completely new but something on which I want to opine. Thus, a new article or blog post may be as simple as my own take, or a different twist, on an existing topic.