I’ve fielded a lot of questions recently about how much time I devote to this site, and about how I write my posts. The answers are: a lot, and it depends. More precisely, I spend about forty hours each week managing Get Rich Slowly. Some weeks I only spend twenty hours. Some weeks I spend sixty hours. This site has been my primary hobby for the past six months.
Where does all this time go? Some of it is spent behind-the-scenes: replying to e-mail, reading personal finance books and magazines, performing maintenance, planning for the future. Most of it is spent writing articles. Even “easy” entries take between 30 and 90 minutes to compose. Major articles aren’t developed over hours or days — they’re developed over the course of weeks. For example, I recently wrote about how to buy a side of beef. That entry followed a typical development path:
I begin to contemplate an entry about how we buy beef each year. I decide that I will call it “Frugality in Practice: Buying a Side of Beef”. (“Frugality in Practice” is my irregular series that reveals real-life ways I save money.)
Our beef comes home. I take photographs and perform a rough inventory. Kris and I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of buying beef in bulk.
I begin to jot notes for the entry, creating a list of ideas that I want to touch upon.
9:00 – 9:15 I select a photo and process it in Photoshop.
3:00 – 3:30 I research information about the subject. I locate a dozen relevant web pages. Of these, four or five contain useful information — I read them in their entirety. I save the links of those that are most useful.
4:00 – 4:45 I perform a “braindump”, writing short chunks related to the subject. Using the list of ideas I created earlier, and drawing on my experience and my research, I flesh out several paragraphs.
4:45 – 5:15 It occurs to me that I ought to perform a cost comparison. I research current beef prices. I go out to the garage and pull the meat from the freezer to weigh each package. My research reveals that buying in bulk and buying from the store yield roughly the same cost. I decide that I can’t call the practice frugal, so I need a new title. As a place-holder, I use “How to Buy Beef in Bulk”.
5:15 – 5:45 I continue to write rough paragraphs. I also begin to impose structure on my thoughts, arranging them into an order that flows. The article is still raw, but it’s beginning to take shape.
9:45 – 10:15 I mold the text into a rough draft and finish toying with the structure.
10:15 – 10:30 I go through the entry inserting links and uploading the images. I also post a private “draft” entry so that I can check for bad HTML.
10:30 – 11:00 I begin to edit. I read the article aloud to myself, tightening everything into a coherent whole. I prune about 50% of what I’ve written. (This is typical.) I ask Kris for title ideas. She tells me that “How to Buy Beef in Bulk” is awful — why don’t I try “How to Buy a Side of Beef”? The title doesn’t fit perfectly, but I use it anyhow — I think it will get people to read the article.
11:00 – 11:30 I’m tired now, but I continue to revise until I’m satisfied that the article works. I schedule it to post at 5am.
I re-read the entry once more, scanning for blatant errors. Kris has e-mailed a couple of typos, so I correct those, too. (Sometimes readers point out errors, too. I like that.)
“How to Buy a Side of Beef” took roughly 4-1/2 hours to prepare. It was one of three entries I posted on Wednesday. (One entry was simply the “daily links” from del.icio.us, and the other was a quick reader poll.) Both The Consumerist and Serious Eats highlighted the article. These pick-ups gave my traffic a small boost. On Wednesday, 4200 people visited this site and 4534 read via RSS. At least 2000 people have visited the page since I posted it. Get Rich Slowly generated $81.04 in revenue on the 13th, which is well above average for this site.
Some final notes:
- I try to devote one day each weekend to writing. In practice, I spend Sunday afternoons researching article ideas, writing rough drafts, and responding to e-mails. During the summer I had an excellent habit of completing five entries on Sunday afternoon, making my weekday workflow much lighter. That was nice. I’m spending more time on the entries now, though, and the workflow has suffered because of it.
- My writing process can be divided into five steps:
- Planning, in which I add an idea to my “list of things to do”, and then spend days or weeks or months brainstorming about it.
- Drafting, which involves a “braindump” of ideas, as well as web (and/or book) research on the subject.
- Writing, during which time I take the drafted paragraphs, flesh them out, and arrange them in an order that makes sense.
- Editing is often the most difficult (and longest) step. I comb through the article again and again, reading it aloud at least once, until I’m satisfied with it. (Sometimes I’m never satisfied, but publish the article anyhow. I hate that.)
- Revising occurs after publication. As readers note errors or suggest supplemental information, I make corrections.
- My blogging workflow is pathetic. I’m sure that I could save a great deal of time if I had a better system. (I tried using pbwiki for a while — it was nice, but it created an extra barrier to the writing process, which ultimately defeated my objectives.) I compose in a text editor (not a word processor). I have 20-30 works-in-progress open at once. (Often supported by as many open browser pages.) I work on them in parallel, which is terribly inefficient.
- I only publish about half the articles that I start. Sometimes I’ll have a great idea, but once writing starts, I’ll realize that the idea isn’t as good as I had believed.
Make no mistake: maintaining this web site is work. But it’s work I love. I love to write. I love to help others find a path to financial success. I love to interact with those who comment and e-mail. So long as I’m able to provide useful information, and to provide a forum for others to exchange ideas, I’ll continue to run this site.
(Bonus: I created an 85kb screenshot of an early draft of this entry. It demonstrates how things look after an initial braindump, before any order (or HTML) has been implemented. You can compare that raw material to this finished entry. You can also see that I have roughly forty in-progress documents, most of which are future entries for Get Rich Slowly.)