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  • Writer's pictureShelby L. Graves, MPH, CHES

My Writing Process for 100+ Paid Pieces

Curious about my own tried and true writing process? Buckle up, because you’re in for a neurodivergent ride!

Image © VectorMine

Before I get started, I want to make it PERFECTLY clear: My writing process will not work for everyone. You may love it. You may hate it. You may gloss right over it. But I hope you can take something from it.

I use this process to knock out 1000+ word pieces each week. Not only do I draft original content, but I also complete revisions, formatting, and photo editing all in about two hours using this exact process.

Want to become a faster writer? This process is worth checking out!


About My Writing Process

My writing process has evolved over the years. I went from using hardly any technique and delivering work on inconsistent timelines – YIKES – to having clearly defined “guidelines” and strategies to pump out work in a timely manner. Take my word for it – the latter is better.

When I was younger, I had no process. Well, that’s not true, the process looked something like: Desperately need to write something down before forgetting, sitting down to write, looking up at the clock and realizing I had been writing for hours. Or some days looking something like: Desperately needing to meet a deadline, feeling unable to write a single word, and being in near tears as I pushed out words on paper, all so I could submit work I was less than proud of.

Now that I’m older and get paid to write, I have a more formal process that works well for my freelance and personal writing interests. Yes, it took both time and $$$ to change my ways.

My process was born from the following:

  1. Loving to write

  2. Hating to write (it varies by day)

  3. Years of untreated ADHD and desperate attempts to cope with neurodivergence in a way that made me “productive” in the eyes of teachers/professors, supervisors, editors, and other authority figures

  4. Years of feedback from those same teachers/professors, supervisors, friends/colleagues, and editors

  5. Light formal training in writing via coursework, videos on copywriting, and random writing guides

  6. Trial and error error error error

  7. Realizing that, aside from agency guidelines, there really are NO RULES to writing! Example: This very blog post. There are no rules! Enjoy me breaking a ton of formatting and punctuation rules. It’s my blog, so I do what I want.

Now that you know a bit of the background (did you really read this part?) – let’s dive in!


Step One: Understand the “Assignment”

You already have a REAL assignment and need to start hammering out your piece? Great! There is one thing you want to do before you start hitting those keys – make sure you understand the point of the piece.

I can’t tell you how many times I have glanced at a title and brief instructions, thought “oh snap, I’ve got this in the bag,” and poured out 1000+ words on a page – only to go back and realize that I missed the mark. Why? Because I didn’t “get” the assignment before I started writing my little heart out.

This isn’t always a total loss. Oftentimes, you can salvage a piece from what you’ve thrown together. But it isn’t going to be your best work.

Before you start a piece, ask yourself these questions three (and maybe a few others):

  1. What is the MAIN point of this piece?

  2. WHO is this piece trying to reach?

  3. WHAT do I want the reader to DO with this information? This is called a Call to Action, or CTA.

Trust me, this will put you in a better position to outline the necessary elements of your work and to reach the target audience for the piece.


Step Two: Outline Your Work

Now that you understand the assignment, it’s time to think it through. Have I churned out some high-quality pieces without old school outlining? Yes. Is that the most productive way to approach a new piece? Not quite.

So, what makes a solid outline? First, understanding the assignment. And second, knowing where you’re really going with it. For that, you need to answer a few more questions.

Think about these questions BEFORE outlining your article:

  1. What is the most important takeaway from this article? Are there any other takeaways?

  2. What questions would the average reader have about this topic? What keywords or phrases would they Google if they were researching this topic on their own? Tip: You can often use those phrases to make your subtitles.

  3. Where can I find great sources for this topic? Tip: Put your grad student hat on and remember that quality sources are reliable, trustworthy, and hopefully not from a “.com.”

  4. Where is the best place for the CTA? Is there more than one CTA for this piece?

After working through my main questions, I make a pool of all the key sources I could use to write the content. Then I finish my outline and set a specific time to sit down and knock out my piece.

I find examples work best in these situations. Let’s try an example for outlining!

Example Assignment Outline

Please keep in mind that this is a made-up example with a purposely horrible title.

Your editor has assigned you: “Condoms are Cool: How to Wear a Condom.” Please write 1000 words on how to correctly wear a condom. Let the reader know that condom use is important and that it takes practice. Link to our education hub and any other relevant guides/resources.

My outline could end up looking something like:


Step Four: Timed Writing Sprints

Taking a breath to think about the purpose of the assignment? Necessary.

Taking the extra time to outline the piece and find quality sources? So helpful!

But the part of this process that has helped me the MOST? Timed writing sprints.

I have ADHD. This makes it difficult to sit down for a single task, even without “distractions.” I also go through cycles of writer’s block when I just outright despise writing. It happens. For these reasons, I’ve conditioned myself to complete timed writing sprints. Basically, I’m Pavlov’s dog over here – but instead of drooling over a bell, I type out entire articles in close to 45 minutes when I see my little blue timer.

Here is how I complete timed writing sprints:

  1. Prepare your writing space. Know you need coffee and water on hand? Grab both. Need music to concentrate? Fire it up. Love natural lighting? Pop open that window. Prepare your writing space for what is most conducive to your comfort, process, and productivity.

  2. Put away distractions. For me, this means placing my phone on airplane mode, shutting my bedroom door, and making sure Ellie has been walked and won’t be begging to go outside. I highly recommend placing your phone on silent or airplane mode, even if you feel your phone isn’t a major distraction for you.

  3. Select your timer. I have a Time Timer and it has changed my life. I say this often. I mean it. It's a complete game-changer. I like having a timer that is silent, separate from my phone, and easy to keep an eye on. If you prefer your phone timer or an alarm, use that instead.

  4. Choose your sprints and breaks. You can stick to set sprints or alternate times. This is completely up to your preference and how many you end up needing to finish your piece. I like to start with a 40-minute sprint, then move to a 30-minute sprint, 20-minute sprint, and sometimes a nice 15-minute polishing sprint. I take a 5-minute break between each sprint. I recommend making yourself get up to stretch, use the bathroom, respond to texts, or grab another drink on your breaks.

  5. Submit and celebrate. Use as many sprints and breaks you need to get the job done – and then put it all AWAY.

There are other approaches to timed writing or word sprints, but this is the one that works best for me.


Step Five: Revise, Revise, Revise

I revise and format during my timed writing sprints. You may prefer to take your time or pass your piece to someone else for proofreading before you submit. My preference is to take a little longer break, then come back to the piece with fresh eyes (but timed).

No matter when you choose to complete your revisions, you should set time aside to specifically work on proofreading and editing. I’m guilty of looking at something for so long it all bleeds together. This can lead to glossing over big mistakes. I find I do my best revisions when I step away and come back. You might prefer to revise while still “in the groove.”

Make sure you give your piece a final pass through for spelling, grammar, and flow. Some people benefit from using apps like Hemingway to review and revise their writing. If editing isn’t your strong suit, you might benefit from using or hiring an editor or writing tutor/coach.


Step Six: Ask for (and ACCEPT) Feedback

I get it. It can be nerve-racking to let someone else read your work. But we need to put ourselves out there and take in feedback to become better writers.

I tend to get lazy when I’m too comfortable with my writing topic or if I feel burned out from writing. I know I’m not alone. An editor or colleague who knows how to give constructive feedback can keep you on your toes. With an editor, I know that if I drop the ball, someone will be there to constructively call me out and help me submit a better piece.

Brainstorm who you trust to give you feedback on your writing and reach out. You can also use campus/alumni resources, tutors, professors, or paid coaches to review your work.


And That’s All She Wrote

That’s a wrap on my own personal writing process. My exact process may not be a perfect fit for your style or preferences. Outlining may make your eyes bleed. Timed writing sprints might not be your vibe. That’s okay.

To recap my process:

  1. Understand it. You need to know who you’re trying to reach, what you would like for them to know, and what you would like them to do with the information you’re providing.

  2. Outline it. You need to know what the main points should be, how they should be organized, and what rad resources you’re going to use to make all those beautiful points within the piece.

  3. Time it. This is where you pour all those words swirling around in your brain onto a page – but in set timed sprints. Time your writing, take breaks, then knock it out of the park.

  4. Revise it. You can time your revisions or you can come back to it later. You want to make sure you review for spelling, grammar, and flow. You also want to make sure you hit the mark (the main point of the article).

  5. Get feedback. You may not “need” feedback on each and every piece you write. But you definitely want feedback from time to time. This will make you a better writer.

I encourage you to take what works for you and leave what does not. You can even use trial and error to experiment with a blend of writing strategies. Make your process work for you. That is what is most important.

This blog was specifically centered on my own personal writing process. However, if you’re struggling overall with writing, then I encourage you to:

  • Try out free courses, videos, or exercises on writing and copywriting

  • Use sites like Hemingway and Grammarly to take your writing to the next level

  • Find a coach, mentor, teacher, or tutor to assist you in honing your writing skills

  • Mix up what you’re reading and take note of what writing you like and what writing you aren’t interested in

  • Follow writers and copywriters on Instagram to hear more about their own tips and tricks when it comes to writing, editing, or landing freelance writing work

If you have found my transparency, tips and tricks, or encouragement to be particularly helpful – you can support my free content by buying me an iced coffee on Ko-fi.

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