How long should it take to write an article or blog post from scratch?

I read a lot of posts on how long it should take to write an article or blog post, and as I sit here considering a particular 1000-word piece for a local magazine that is taking me way too long on the research end, I realized something– though maybe my hourly rate for this piece is going to drop a little bit, the time spent in research is in no way time wasted.

I have found that the more research I do on a subject, the more sources tend to reveal themselves. As a result, I have taken to a “research-until-I-feel-overwhelmed” approach, at which point I break, organize, and compile the mess I have created during the research frenzy. With respect to the actual writing, if you can get a (very) rough draft pounded out in an hour for a piece that size, amazing. But you can expect to have to edit several times when done. I have learned a neat trick from another post that I appreciate– type TK for “to come” where you do not remember a resource, quote, or reference rather than stress yourself out looking for the note or whatever (chances are, if you can’t remember it, you may well end up cutting it by your final edit and the glaring misspelling makes the note easy to find in your document). But this still only takes me so far. I can generally agree that, because of the freedom inherent in the format, that a blog post should never take more than 30 minutes to an hour. If you find yourself pushing that 45 minute mark with no end in sight, shorten it, put it aside, or scrap it altogether– blogs are generally enjoyed for quick reading, not in-depth reporting.

But still, I realize that I have not answered my own question yet: How long should it take to write an article from scratch? The only answer I can come up with is:

“…as long as it takes.”

I know. It’s lame. But it’s true. If you are trying to save yourself time on a piece or stressed out that it is taking too long, maybe you are not yet ready to write that piece. As you get better at writing and learn more about your areas of specialization, your writing time for those great pieces will decrease, but until then great work is going to have to be a labor of love, and one which you should pursue to completion or deadline– which ever comes first.

5 Tips To Help You Become a Successful Freelance Writer and Editor

You love to write. Though you may not be a professional, you are dedicated writer. You get up in the middle of the night to jot down story ideas and have even called in to work because you “got the bug”. There has got to be a way to get paid for this, right?

Right! Though the world of freelance writing is competitive, if approached in the right way by a dedicated individual it can also be extremely lucrative. So what are the steps you need to take to start making an income doing what you love? I’m glad you asked.

1)      Research.

The best way to know where your writing will fit in a paying market is to take a look at the material they are currently publishing. Go out and pick up a few copies of your local publications. Get a feel for their individual styles, the voice they use, the general length of the articles, the subject matter they prefer, and see if they have contact info for the editors inside (usually on the “Contents” page or near the back). Do the same for online publications. Maybe you can suggest a piece for a specific section or regular column—knowledge  of the publication(s) you are querying will go a long way.

2)      Reach Out

Tell your friends, family, and colleagues of your intentions to become a professional freelancer. Who knows—you may know someone that needs copy written for a website,  a brochure made, or who happens to be the editor of a major magazine.

Besides, you are not likely to find any work if nobody knows you are looking for it. Use social media, and if you are not on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, make your profile(s) for each one now. No really, now, in a separate window. No excuses.

3)      Brand Yourself

No, not literally—I mean create a unified professional image. What does that mean exactly? Well, clean yourself up and make sure you dress to impress in public, but also be sure to create a basic marketing package for yourself. Handing someone a professional-looking business card with your contact info and website will dazzle in comparison to ripping off a piece of the newspaper you are reading to scrawl out your email address for a potential client. Vistaprint.com offers 250 full-color cards at no charge to anyone. Just pay shipping.

The second part of that package is your website. Don’t panic yet—it can be very basic. You just need a page that tells a little bit about yourself (your background, and the services you offer), another page with a few samples on it, and one more with your contact info. The goal of your website is to make it easy for potential clients to get in touch with you and to see samples of your work, so these three basic pages posted publically on your own website are an essential piece of any professional freelancers marketing arsenal.

Do some rooting around the web to find great deals on hosting and domains. Find a drag-and-drop website creator that will take the pain out of building a website. I suggest starting with Wix.com and GoDaddy.com for an intro to web building and hosting.

4)      Write.

Basically, you have to do the work to get the work.

Blogs are great for this. The freedom inherent in the format is fun and, as long as you keep yourself posting regularly, you are demonstrating to potential clients that you are dedicated to the craft and that you can create original content consistently. WordPress and Blogger offer quality platforms that integrate easily with most web builders. Make sure your blog is linked to your website and vice versa.

5)      Reach Out Further

You have done the research. You have the samples. Now it is time to put your ideas to work!

Take a few of your blog ideas and pitch them as story ideas to paying markets. Draw upon your research to decide where to send each story idea and to whom you should address the query.

A quick note on queries—be concise, yet thorough. Include a VERY brief introduction about yourself, a headline, a brief summary of the article including sources and experts you might interview (if possible), and an approximate word count. Some pros suggest including multiple story ideas in your query letters, which I will not advise against.

Expect rejection, but be persistent. “No’s” may lead to other opportunities or even unrelated assignments. As long as you show that you are passionate, dedicated, and professional you have an advantage over a majority of the other queries those editors are reading on a daily basis.

So there you have it—everything you need to get started on your new career doing what you love. Please feel free to offer any pointers you might pick up along the way as I am still learning myself, and KEEP ON WRITING!

Every Writer’s Worst Nightmare Made Easy– Picking a Specialty Stress-Free

zoo bday 2012 082 Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in my professional career. With the launch of this blog post, I will have completed the finishing touches on my new website (www.CraigSBaker.com) and officially made my profile available to the masses– an intimidating thought, to say the least.

As such, I felt it important to draw everything together with respect to my image as a professional writer, editor, and copywriter. This blog is the culmination of that effort.

The time stamp on this blog post will forever mark the moment that I, traditionally a generalist in every sense of the word, will give myself a topic of specialization and take that leap feared by every writer, author, marketing or public relations professional, filmmaker, and artist alike.

I owe the decision, and the confidence I needed to make it, to a video posted by PR Wiz Brendon Burchard on how to position yourself as an expert in your field (Click Here). I recommend watching it if you are looking into going into business for yourself in any capacity.

What I realized while watching that video is that, though I may not be the world’s foremost expert on freelancing (yet!), I do already know a thing or two about getting started. After all, I have landed several lucrative and repetitive contracts, formed a relationship with the editor of a well-respected magazine in my home town, been in contact with just about every other editor in a 50-mile radius, set up two websites, made marketing material for myself, and held literally weeks-worth of non-stop professional correspondence– a heck of a leg-up for any fledgling freelancer, I would say. I may not have the coveted dollar-a-word blog offers yet, but I am helping to pay the bills at home. And since a good writing gig pays about 3-5 times what my last customer service job payed hourly, I have found time everyday to  keep on top of my housework as well.

In all honesty, I am not getting rich. Not by any standard. But I do have the best job on earth– getting paid to do what I love!

So how, you may be asking, can you do the same thing for yourself?

First off, YOU JUST NEED TO START WRITING! Start today. Start now. Go and get yourself a blog if you don’t have one– open a new tab in your browser, go to WordPress.com and register. No, really. I’ll wait. It’s free and if you are reading this post, I know you have the spare time.

Once you are comfortable with your blog format, read some blogs by other people that interest you. Make notes to immulate your favorites and put up one post tonight. Then one a week for a month or two. Don’t worry about picking your specialty– just write about what comes naturally. Once I had a medium for free writing, I found that my mind was always open to story ideas and, over time, coming up with article pitches simply became part of my regular thought processes. Share your posts with your friends and family and ask for feedback. Make sure you ask for honest feedback and take all criticism as compliment– after all, a critique is simply testifying to your level of toughness in telling you how bad you really are.

Then, sit back and review. What do you write about the most? What topics always seem to draw you in? What blogs are you following and who do you like to comment on the most? If you have put in the work you are likely to find that your specialty has been calling to you the entire time. My personal posts and interests, for instance, always seemed to lead me back to the same thing– HOW TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER.

And so here I am, writing about it. When I left the mall to work in the written word, it was scary. The big dogs occupy a lot of space in the field already, and pushing your way in hardly seems like an option. So I say don’t push. Do what you love and your experience will come organically, and it is precisely that experience that will see you develop from amateur to expert. If you find yourself writing and you don’t love it, then stop. Don’t force it– if it feels disingenuous it will sound that way to your readers. Take a break, try a different voice, a new topic or a new format altogether– video montage, podcast, audio journalism, digital photography, whatever.

When you finally do find the thing that you want to learn more about just because it excites you, or that goal that  you want to keep pursuing despite the fact that nobody is paying you to do so, you can stop looking.

Once that happens, it is time to write about it. So do that, and get back to work.