Over time I’ve been able to build a system that helps me create a higher quality and quantity of material, with the same amount of time on any given day.
— Ramit Sethi, iwillteachyoutoberich.com
Ramit Sethi is obsessed with systems and processes. In college he used them to win over $100,000 in scholarships, and he still uses them when writing for his personal finance blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich (IWTYTBR). I interviewed Ramit to find out how he continuously optimizes his writing process to create better content. This post is derived from that interview, and contains the specific techniques and tools Ramit uses.
Read A Lot And Take Notes:
I have over 10,000 bookmarks, and hundreds of different tags.
— Ramit Sethi, on how he keeps track of readings
The first step in Ramit’s system is to read voraciously. Every day, he spends several hours browsing the internet for interesting and relevant content. Reading does three things: it keeps your idea muscle working, gives you perspective on what styles and topics resonate with people, and provides a breadth of knowledge that you can draw on later.
Don’t be a passive reader.
When Ramit comes across an article he likes, or information that may be useful for a post, he adds it to Delicious. Do your future-self a favour: get really specific with your tags. Among Ramit’s top 10 tags are topics he writes about often: finance, psychology, and marketing, but there are 777 tags in total. By getting specific, you make it really easy to find content when you need it. Want to be even more efficient? Ramit saves the most important part in an annotation, so he can grab it without having to reread the entire article. If you follow these two tips, writing quality posts becomes a breeze because you always have quick access to three our four relevant articles.
Have An Editorial Calendar:
I’ve gotten a little more rigourous and sophisticated, and I use an editorial calendar.
— Ramit Sethi, on how he plans his posts
How do you decide what to write about? Do you think about topics while driving to work? Does your thesis come to you while watching TV? When Ramit started blogging, he would just wake up and decide what to write about. In eight years, his process has evolved and become more sophisticated. Now he uses an editorial calendar to stay organized. Setting up your own calendar is easy. Do this:
- Jot down the main categories or themes you write about, i.e. SEO, conversion rates, web design.
- Mark a weekly calendar with each theme, give more weight to topics that resonate well with readers.
- Stick to your plan! Just like making a financial or career plan, you reap much greater rewards by acting consistently.
Ramit says having a calendar keeps his posting regular, which works well with his readers. This regularity also allows his assistant to add testimonials, and get the HTML just right. By having an editorial calendar, Ramit and his assistant can coordinate their efforts, and gain the benefits of specialization. How would a calendar improve your workflow?
Post Your Best, Draft Everything Else:
Every time I write something I want it to be timeless. I want someone to come back in 25 years and go, ‘oh yeah, that’s a really good point. That’s something interesting.’
— Ramit Sethi, on making every post count
When I asked Ramit whether he holds back from publishing certain posts, he told me he has over 100 drafts saved in WordPress. The number one reason is that these posts aren’t complete. Others just aren’t good. Ramit says he gets a lot of ideas from talking with people, and during a conversation he might find a friend’s ideas interesting and email himself a note to write about it. The problem isn’t coming up with ideas. The problem is making every post remarkable.
Ramit’s written hundreds of posts for IWTYTBR, and says he may have posted about 20 articles that he’s not really proud of. He adds, “if it doesn’t have that quality of timelessness, or if it doesn’t have something interesting, I’m not really interested in posting it. I’d rather just post nothing”. You have a very thin thread of credibility with your readers, and Ramit warns that after just two or three bad posts you can lose them. Are you posting only your best work?
Reflect And Improve:
When I started in 2004, I tried to make every post really, really good. They could have been better.
— Ramit Sethi, on improving over time
Ramit’s early posts were simple – he’d just lay out the facts. Overtime his writing has become more nuanced, which means longer posts with a narrative element. By telling stories, readers can relate to your writing. By telling stories, readers can remember your writing. By telling stories, you give your readers something to tell their friends about. Tell stories!
Your writing may gradually improve on it’s own, but with effort you will see greater gains. Ramit uses his email newsletter as a laboratory for testing writing techniques. Since email marketing platforms like MailChimp or Aweber allow you to segment your list, experimenting there is a low cost way to see what resonates with readers. Looking back on your past writing, how can you improve it?
As Ramit and I ended the segment of our interview on his writing process, he said something that resonated so deeply with me that it’s changed how I think about writing. He said, “if you’re just going to start another me-too blog, what’s the point? My motto has always been, figure out a way to be the best in the world on that small piece of real estate you have on the internet. You don’t have to write long posts. Yours could be short, full of pictures, whatever it might be. Just try to be the best, and you’ll find you get disproportionate rewards”.
Here is a free PDF download: Ramit Sethi’s Ultimate Guide to Blogging.
About the Author: Michael Alexis produces WriterViews – interviews with our world’s top bloggers..