How a Non-Writer Cranks Out Content

By: Guest | June 21, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Brad Farris.

Content marketing. Blogging. eBooks.

We know these are all great marketing tactics, but they have one thing in common: They require me to write.

Because writing doesn’t come naturally to me, I find every excuse in the book not to do it.

Recently, I came across a video by Yuvi Zalkow about writing for busy people and some of his ideas have transformed the way I write – so much so that now I’m writing every day.

Yuvi advises people to stop shooting for perfection at the outset of your project. Aim lower.

Much lower. 

His advice has worked for me and now I’m a human writing machine!

Following are six changes to my writing process that have made all the difference.

1. Don’t try to write an article, just write an idea. (Yuvi calls it “scribbling.”)

Writing an article is hard! You need a good lead, some humor, and a strong finish. You need parallel structure, consistent punctuation, and grammar. When I try to think of all those things at once, I get intimidated.

So, I start with writing down ideas in raw form. I don’t think it through or go for perfection. I just write down my thoughts.

2. Don’t write at the computer.

This kind of raw idea capture is hard to do on my computer. My email bings, my IM window bounces and, soon, I’m distracted.

I capture my ideas on my phone in a simple text editor. I’ll admit a phone is a terrible writing tool. It has a tiny screen, a lousy keyboard, and cut and paste is a pain. But that’s just the point — I’m just jotting down ideas. For that, the phone is perfect. It’s always nearby, it only does one thing at a time, and that tiny keyboard means I don’t even worry about spelling, much less sentence structure.

3. Once you have written a few ideas, try to fit them together.

On Friday, I reserve some writing time — a solid block of time with no interruptions, no phone, no email, no meetings…just writing.

During that time, I review the ideas I’ve jotted down to see if they can be expanded, combined, or if they need to incubate longer. Usually, I have three to four blog posts started, and some random ideas that can just stay in the idea phase.

This concentrated time helps me to consistently move those ideas along.

4. Don’t write in Word.

I’m a Word nerd who can define styles and track changes with the best of them. But for writing a blog post (or any short work), it’s swatting at flies with a front loader. The problem with Word is that it confuses composition with presentation.

When I’m just getting ideas out of my head, I don’t need to worry about presentation. Because I’m capturing my ideas in a plain text document, it’s natural to stay in plain text as I move those ideas toward a rough draft.

 5. Shoot for a crappy first draft.

A crappy first draft has the skeleton of a good blog post; it has strong content, it’s ordered in a way that makes sense, and it gives value to the reader. But it’s not a finished post.

It may still need a snappy opening sentence, or a solid call-to-action. It may need an illustration and it may have some questionable word choices, but the basics are there.

 6. Hire someone else to finish it.

Once I have my crappy first draft all set, I send it to my brand journalist to make sense of it. You see, writing is really hard for some, and it’s best left to the professionals. A professional can take ideas and thoughts and turn them into something other people want to read, which is really the whole point behind writing, right?

If you want to get really nerdy and think about the right tools and software to make a process like this work, well Yuvi has you covered with another video: Serious Writing With a Computer.

What do you think? Whether you are a natural at writing or not, what advice would you give?

Brad Farris is the executive editor at, and principal advisor at Anchor Advisors, a firm that helps small business owners to grow their business. He’s also a frequent speaker at business events. You can follow him on Twitter @blfarris.

  • blfarris

    @ginidietrich Thanks Gini! Now that twitter’s back up I’ll tweet it up! @lisagerber

  • amandag

    My favorite lines “I’m a Word nerd who can define styles and track changes with the best of them. But for writing a blog post (or any short work), it’s swatting at flies with a front loader.”
    Great post, Brad!

    •  @amandag Thanks for reading (and noticing). Do you write in Word?

      • amandag

         @blfarris negative. I write in text edit. Short thoughts and then later I try to piece them all together. 

  • MSchechter

    Awesome to see yuvizalkow ‘s videos getting the love they deserve (it also ensure that it will shortly be self deprecation city in the comments here). The one thing I would say is that for #2 I’d consider making it “Don’t JUST write at the computer” so much of the benefit of plain text is the ability to get all of your thoughts in all places. I’ll often work things out partially on my phone and then on my MacBook Air and then back again. That interoperability is invaluable to me. Now I’m off to see if I can hire Yuvi to be my brand journalist…

    •  @MSchechter  You are right, that’s a better way to say it. Though I have to say I’m just not as productive on my computer. Too many distractions (even if I go full screen, etc.)

  • thinkip

    @MSchechter @yuvizalkow but how can you be non-writer if you write content?

    • MSchechter

      @thinkip @yuvizalkow I’m assuming he’s using it as one would use the word novice or bad writer 🙂

  • Jamie0go9qx


  • Great post! I abandoned Word as a writing tool several years ago. I use a pen and paper so I can drift between bullet points, full sentences and diagrams.
    It’s similar to video editing. When I edit video, most of the storytelling happens in my head, not in the editing program. I rush for a crappy rough cut and then I refine it while I’m doing other things – eating, sleeping, watching TV, etc. Once the story is my head it doesn’t need a piece of software to evolve.

    •  @fitzternet I’ve been experimenting with some long-hand writing (on the ipad, but same idea). It is really freeing!

  • yuvizalkow

    @blfarris @SpinSucks oh wow. I’ve been offline all day and just checked it out. Fabulous post! Thank you.

  • Great post, Brad! Thanks for referencing my zany videos…. But also, I think you’ve boiled down the essential steps so nicely here. I particularly like step 5, since people so often have expectations that a good post (or story or article or book!) should instantly pop out brilliant on the first try. This expectation alone can shut down some people from writing amazing things… Sometimes it takes a lot of shaping to get something in good shape… and that’s just fine.
    Thanks again.

    •  @yuvizalkow Creating that crappy first draft definitely freed me up. It keeps me from editing and re-writing before I even have a first draft. Now I can just write (poorly) then come back the edit. I’m sure it’s just a brain trick. but it works for me.

  • GirlReworked

    Brad, I love the crappy first draft idea. In fact, I had a red stamp made which reads, “Crappy First Draft,” which I stamp with satisfaction on every first draft after I print. (Yeah, I still print. I like paper.) I think I’ll try your suggestion of working my first draft in text edit as opposed to Word. Thanks of the suggestion! 🙂

    •  @GirlReworked LOVE that stamp!

    •  @GirlReworked Gotta get me one of those!

      • amandag

         @blfarris  @GirlReworked get two! 

  • I absolutely understand everything you have mentioned. In fact, I browsed through your various other articles and I think you happen to be completely right. Best wishes with this particular blog.

  • As I read this earlier this week, preparing it for publication, I thought, “Wow. People ask me all the time how I write, but I’ve never considered it doesn’t come as easily for all.” My answer is always, “Block out an hour every day and just do it.” But, as you always do, you’ve made me look at different perspectives and now I’ll answer that question differently.
    That said, these steps would drive me nuts. I write everything in my WordPress admin, which means I’m doing it at my computer and I only do one draft. I never have it edited or finished by someone else. Isn’t it funny how getting to the same end is so different for everyone?

    •  @ginidietrich WOW! I can’t imagine doing it in one step. Just thinking about it makes my brain feel like it’s getting wrapped up in my bicycle spokes. 
      I wish I could write like that, where it just pours out, but it doesn’t. So instead I use this convoluted, many stepped method. The good news is that this process, tortuous as it may be, gets the job done. 
       @yuvizalkow ‘s videos really helped me to pull it together — that’s where I point people when they ask me…

  • blfarris

    @bigteethvideo Thanks Gregg — glad you liked it. You should post one there about how to shoot a short video.

    • bigteethvideo

      @blfarris Yeah. I’ve posted a bit on @SpinSucks & @lisagerber & I have thrown out a few ideas but I should do more for sure.

  • blfarris

    @justfiverules Thanks for the RT — glad you liked the post. So glad I found your site – I’m digging the 5 rules.

  • blfarris

    @john_trader1 Thanks! I find writing so hard — the tricks help.

  • mylefttom

    Great tips – I like “write on your phone”. I’ve done this, and it’s surprisingly fast and effective. And considering the way various copy and paste transfers can goof up any formatting, it is definitely best to start with plain text, no frills. Nailed it, Brad!

    •  @mylefttom Thanks for the kind words. When someone suggested writing on my phone I laughed through my nose (it wasn’t pretty). But I tried it anyway and it really works. It’s amazing…
      For sure you have to work in plain text (or Markdown, the geeky version of plain text).

  • Writing is my first love, but I’m a (recovering) perfectionist. I’ve had to learn to embrace crappiness, too.
    I’m a proponent of write first and edit later. I’m also a fan of @yuvizalkow ‘s. His I’m a Failed Writer series is lovely.

    •  @Erin F.  @yuvizalkow ‘s failed writer series is fantastic. I’ve sent his videos to so many people who’ve then written back “met too!”

  • blfarris

    @clarity4theboss Glad you liked the SpinSucks article. Looks like you and I have similar businesses? See

  • lauraclick

    @clarity4theboss You’re welcome! It’s good stuff!

  • As I tweeted, these are perfect tips for people like me, who do consider ourselves writers–especially when we’re thinking maybe–just maybe–we’re not writers after all. Thanks very much, @blfarris .

    •  @ShakirahDawud Maybe I should have said “natural writers” — writing is hard for me so I need all these weird steps. But I know it’s hard for other people too.

  • blfarris

    @erinmfeldman Thanks for the RT! Glad you liked it.

    • ErinMFeldman

      @blfarris You’re welcome, and I did.

  • blfarris

    @shonali Thanks for the RT! Glad you liked it.

    • shonali

      @blfarris I did. Else I wouldn’t have shared it. @GiniDietrich knows that. 🙂

  • blfarris

    @shakirahdawud Thanks for the RT & comment. I should have said, How to write content if you are not a “natural writer” like @ginidietrich

    • ShakirahDawud

      @blfarris @ginidietrich No, I thought it was the perfect title! I felt mercenary, like I was stealing tips not meant for me. Heh.

      • blfarris

        @shakirahdawud Please, steal away!

      • ginidietrich

        @ShakirahDawud @blfarris I thought it was a perfect title too. And a very good blog post.

  • kunals89

    RT @steveology How a Non-Writer Cranks Out Content via @ginidietrich

  • blfarris

    @samuraiwriter99 Thanks for the RT Yuvi’s videos are the best!

  • blfarris

    @lizwilson2 You’ve picked out my secret weapon. I give that advice all the time and yet so few people follow it.

    • lizwilson2

      @blfarris it’s great advice!

  • SthsideMktg

    @watchingwiley . TY for the RT:)

  • blfarris

    @michaelbowers Thanks for the RT. Glad you liked it. Seems like you and I have similar business interests.

    • MichaelBowers

      @blfarris Looks like we both are about building small businesses. I like your blog. Good stuff there.

  • blfarris

    @leodimilo Thanks for the RT on the @spinsucks post. What did you like about it?

    • LeoDimilo

      @blfarris Shooting for a crappy first draft…I don’t know whether you should shoot for one..but the key is to finish. That’s my fav bullet

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  • martikonstant

    @blfarris Happy Friday Brad!

    • blfarris

      @martikonstant Happy to Friday you! I liked that event you did with @crestodina — looked like fun!

      • RGFA_US

        @blfarris @martikonstant @crestodina love the article Brad!!!, #entrepreneur, #marketing, #small biz, #start up

  • blfarris

    @barbaraalevras Thanks for the RT. That article had some terrific discussion. What piqued your interest?

    • BarbaraAlevras

      @blfarris Many good tips. I suffer from “edit as you go” syndrome and have to remind myself to just let the writing flow. Constant struggle.

      • blfarris

        @barbaraalevras Yes, writing on a low fidelity device (like my phone) cured me of that! Thanks again for passing it along.

      • blfarris

        @barbaraalevras BTW, It looks like our day jobs have some similarities. I work with SmBiz and my partner works with small NFP.

        • BarbaraAlevras

          @blfarris Really enjoy working w smaller orgs. Enjoy the ‘partnership’ factor & ability to make big impact. What size (# EEs) do U prefer?

  • AlexaAnason

    @saraharg I need this. 🙂

  • blfarris

    @alexaanason Glad you liked it! How do you keep the content flowing?

    • AlexaAnason

      @blfarris I like #5. Gotta revert back to the “sloppy copy” days. 🙂

      • blfarris

        @AlexaAnason It’s the only way I get anything finished! Hope it helps.

  • SarahArg

    @AlexaAnason @blfarris gives me just the boost of confidence I need when it comes to writing copy!

  • Brad,
    Writing is really hard for me too, but I have so much to share. It’s funny as I don’t consider myself to be a great or natural writer, but I’ve had people hint at the fact that maybe I should consider a writing career.
    1) In 4th or 5th grade, my teachers asked me to join the Young Author’s group. It was basically an elite group of word snipers (I thought of us as the Navy Seals of writers) that wrote stories, poems, and other prose.
    2) In high school, I focused my time on writing romantic notes to girls I liked, so that was a HUGE waste of 4 years as none of the girls ever panned out as my life partner. I had no game.
    3) College was hilarious. I used to write complete bull$hit to make my teachers laugh, since I never read the material I was writing about.
         a) There was the time I wrote an essay about Billy Elliot actually being the tale of a dad’s heartbreak, struggle, and acceptance of his young son’s homosexuality. My Brit Lit professor promptly gave me a C- and wrote, “What are you talking about? You obviously didn’t read the book. You could have at least watched the movie! This paper deserves an F, but your writing mechanics and creative style raised your grade to passing.”
         b) How about the time I compared American Slavery to the shackles of nicotine and the tobacco industry? My opening lead,” Joe Cool wouldn’t think smoking was so cool if he knew cigarettes are a modern day version of slavery.” What?? What does that even mean??? My teacher gave me an A- for my imagination.
         c) My favorite memory of college writing? My Advanced Macro Economics teacher pulled me aside after class one day and told me point blank, “Phil, don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think Economics is the right major for you. You should consider a career as a writer. I laugh out loud whenever I read your papers as you have a special way with words on a topic you clearly don’t know anything about.” My proudest moment, mostly because my former professor is a BALLER at the Federal Reserve now.
    My point? Even though I never saw the vision, others apparently did. I thought my writing was horrible and I still do, but I persist as much as I can. I hope that one day it comes naturally to me, but, in the meantime, little tips like the ones you suggested help me get there.

  • blfarris

    @barbaraalevras You’ve been so generous with this post! Thank you…

    • BarbaraAlevras

      @blfarris You’re very welcome. Can you tell I love that post? 😉

      • blfarris

        @BarbaraAlevras I can tell. It’s gotten a lot of love! I’m so glad.

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