Ok, this headline is a bit deceiving, but I want to be clear that content writing isn’t only about sitting at your desk all day, stringing together words that will wow and impress clients. That’s a HUGE component, but to do the job well it’s not all you should be doing.
This is why project management skills are essential for any content writer. You do the work, but you also spend tons of time managing the details related to this work.
The first thing you need to know how to do when managing a content assignment is work backward. You start the assignment with the deadline in hand, so you know your end date. You then have to know how much time you’ll need to get things done by that date.
This means scheduling time to write, and finalize a piece for submission. Based on length and how familiar you are with the topic, the time you’ll need to write will vary. Working backward helps you decide the latest date you could start the project and still deliver it on time. It even allows you to get ahead, so you could possibly deliver early.
I prefer that option myself. Given my deadlines, I work backward and try to pad my time by at least two days. If I don’t need the extra time, then I’m done early, which is my preference. If something unforeseen comes up, I’ve given my self a little wiggle room to still get things done by the deadline.
Managing the bits and pieces
While in the throes of writing, you can’t disregard the other elements necessary to finishing. It’s essential to adequately manage all the pieces that will make your writing complete. This may only involve keeping track of source material as you do your own research, but it can get more complicated.
If you’re conducting interviews, you’ll need to keep track of when those are scheduled, making sure they take place in the timeframe you’ve established by working backward. You’ll then need to keep track of the copious notes you took so that you can work that content into your piece.
As you do all this, you also have to keep in mind the style guide your client should give you. This means knowing whether they do, or do not, use the Oxford comma. It means knowing what internal naming they use, if any. It can even get as detailed as how to write out someone’s name and title. Most often, they’ll provide you with a style type they want you to use, like Associated Press or The Chicago Manual of Style, but you need to know who uses what and be careful to implement the right style while you work.
Adding in time for the extras
All of these extras eventually get heaped upon the additional things many content writers must do to turn in a finished piece:
- Photo research
- Internal and external linking
These can all take up significant chunks of time on their own, and really drive home the fact that a content writer is actually a project manager. Creating a finished piece of content is a project when you have to commit to finding photos to use within the piece and embedding the “proper” number of links. And, while I do enjoy the photo hunt and find it pretty easy to pull external links, on a good day, this work adds about 30-60 minutes to any given project.
Formatting is yet another fun time-suck when you’re a content writer. This is especially true if you’re required to submit your content through a management system that’s not Google. Even cutting and pasting to the Drive requires some reformatting, but sometimes, I have to either type the article within a specific system, which I don’t enjoy doing, or paste in a plain text version and format it at the end. It’s not hard, but can easily make you rush if you’re really close to hitting a deadline.
When I work backward, I factor in time to do all of these things in addition to a final copyediting pass. I will even combine tasks, editing while I format. I also like to run my finished pieces through a helper app like Hemingway App. While I’m pretty good at catching my typos and grammatical errors, Hemingway App also helps highlight things that impact readability such as passive voice, adverbs, and long, hard-to-read sentences. The app assigns a readability grade too, so I can see how my edits are improving readability as I go. It’s best to aim for readability no higher than Grade 8 for things like blog posts and web copy. The grade can be higher when it’s a more academic piece.
Keeping track of the complete project, not just the writing
Do you now hear the time ticking away as you near your next content deadline? There’s a lot going on to fill up the time between the bits, pieces, and extras, not to mention the actual writing. But, if you use your project management skills, and approach each assignment not as something to write, but an entire entity to create, you’ll do fine.