10 ways to template the s**t out of your writing life

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Progressively, over my writing career, I’ve come to rely on checklists and templates as part of my writing and editing workflow. These days, I’m primarily a solo writer, so templates, boilerplates, and checklists help me remain on task and productive when I’m writing.

Here are ten ways to template that s**t out of your writing life:

1. Use TextExpander

While a regular freelance contributor to CNET TechRepublic, I used to get an inordinate amount of PR pitches. Eight of ten of those pitches were usually off-target. Over time, I also noticed I was using the same responses multiple times for other emails. I added TextExpander (iOS/Mac) to my workflow and saw it save me time and frustration when I chose to reply to PR pitches. Gradually, I started using TextExpander for other repetitive email responses.

2. Use writing and editing checklists

To avoid the image of client editorial standards dancing in my head, I use writing and editing checklists when writing articles, blog posts, and other content.

I took some inspiration from Michael Hyatt’s blog post template and created a writing and editing checklist template that I customize to client standards as needed.

Over time, I’ve setup checklist templates for Todoist, Asana, Nozbe, and Omnifocus.

3. Use document templates

I got my start working as a technical writer developing user guides, operations guides, online help, and the like where I learned the value of well-crafted document templates. Often, I had to fix Microsoft Office, template, and style issues for clients.

Even today, I set up templates specific to client projects. It saves me time and lets me focus on the writing part.

4. Create a workflow for deal scoping

The latest area where I’m trying to apply templates and checklists is to manage the scoping of freelance projects. It’s a move I hope to make fully happen in 2016. The boilerplate I envision has a standard set of questions and qualifiers that I can use when considering a new project.

5. Create templates for your collaboration platform

I do a lot of work with collaboration platforms as part of my corporate client work. Whether it’s SharePoint/Office 365 or Atlassian Confluence, there are ways to create templates for your standard pages given you have the right privileges.

For example, in Atlassian Confluence, you can create templates with macros without having any programming skills. In my experience, templates are an underutilized and underappreciated feature in Confluence.

When it comes to SharePoint templates, you are entering power user territory but creating and using site templates is getting easier with each new version. Hopefully, SharePoint 2016 will continue this trend.

6. Create boilerplate for your bio

If you write for publications and websites, you always need to have a bio ready. I save short and long form versions of my bio in TextExpander to reuse, so I don’t have to dig through old bios or always have to write a new bio for each request.

7. Keep a template library

I’m a long time template collector. It’s something I confess only in hushed tones, but I’m admitting to it here. I save templates in the public domain and templates I’ve created for previous projects (where the contract allowed me). Here’s how I see the value of a template library for writers:

  • An archive of best (and not so best) document design practices
  • Lessons learned from previous projects
  • Templates you can reverse engineer to learn how to create new templates

8. Use an invoice template for each freelance client

We’ve come a long way from having to create client invoices in Microsoft Excel to today’s cloud-based invoicing platforms. Take the time and customize an invoice template for each client if your invoicing system allows it. Using a template will save you time and let you fire off that invoice with even less fuss.

9. Save your favorite style guides

While it’s rare for an organization to have to write their style guides from scratch these days, I still recommend keeping a collection of your favorite style guides. While it’s not a template in the traditional sense but sitting on my secret stash of style guides has helped me kick off more than one client style guide because I had a folder of inspiration to help me start on the new style guide.

10. Create templates for your client status reports

If you have to submit status reports to multiple clients, I say make a template for each of them. Even if you get a Word document from them, just save it as a template and you’ll be good to go when creating a new status report.

If you use Gmail, you can create a status report template as a canned response. In Microsoft Outlook, there’s an option to create email templates as well.


I was once asked if using templates and checklists might stymy my creativity. My answer is an emphatic No. In fact, using templates and checklists have helped me become more creative because they free me to think and focus on writing.

How do you use templates in your writing life?

Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.

Image by Sergei Zolkin via Unsplash.com

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