Of all the places to draft a blog post, the humble Google Doc has become my favorite. In this post I’ll go over my top tips for writing for the web in Google Docs, how it saves me time and frustration and helps me be more productive without breaking my writing focus.
So why Google Docs for writing blog posts? In a nutshell, I find that Google Docs allows me to write freely without distractions, while easily adding important elements as I go (such as HTML tags and links) and utilizing some helpful features (such as a clickable table of contents and notes-to-self in the sidebar).
Google Docs vs. Gutenberg
As the WordPress Gutenberg Editor is still pretty new, I’ve gotta say there are some things I like about it, but overall I find it difficult to write directly into the Gutenberg editor.
I also find it a little cumbersome to try and move text around as I go, though it's fine for making minor tweaks on a final draft. I get that the Gutenberg blocks should be easy to drag around and all, but I find that especially when I’m writing
I’ve also been coming up against a few bugs that have been causing some funny things to happen as I write. I’m sure some or all of these will be worked out with time, but my mild Gutenberg frustrations aside, I’ve gotten acquainted with a few Google Doc shortcuts and become rather attached. They’ve helped me be more productive while writing for the web, without disrupting my creative flow (for instance, quickly checking my word count, adding header tags and links).
Maybe I’ll appreciate Gutenberg more as I get used to it, but for now, I feel like it tends to slow down my writing and formatting, and forces me to constantly pause to select a block or header tag.
The good news is, I can easily copy and paste all of my text from a Google Doc (including my header tags and links) into Gutenberg, and it all automatically breaks down into the correct blocks, ready for any final editing (like editing any external links). At that point, I tend to appreciate that everything is broken down in Gutenberg into smaller pieces that are easy to pinpoint.
Update: I've since gotten faster writing directly in Gutenberg, and it's not so bad for simpler posts since I realized pressing return automatically creates a new block. I still find some content easier to manage in Google Docs, especially if it's a long post that requires research and outlining and note-taking that I don't necessarily want to end up in the post. That said, as I'm writing this paragraph Gutenberg is doing some wonky formatting stuff as I'm typing that's driving me nuts! But I digress…
Google Docs vs. Pro Writing Tools (Scrivener, Ulysses, etc.)
In case you’re wondering, I have paid for and tried some “pro” writing tools, including Scrivener and Ulysses. Though I'm a
I found Scrivener to be too complicated, even for writing something like a book or course (I would honestly probably use a combo of Google Docs and Airtable
And I spent quite a bit of time trying to get used to Ulysses’ markup, so I could “easily” write my content in Ulysses and then just copy it over to my blog. But not only did I find it a little too complicated to keep a writing rhythm going, but it frustrated me that I couldn’t visually see my headings, images etc. as I wrote, or easily copy them elsewhere.
With Google Docs, I can clear all the unnecessary stuff away as I write, quickly insert HTML tags and links as I go and visually preview them, and copying to my self-hosted WordPress site is a breeze.
My Top Tips for Writing Blog Posts Quickly in Google Docs
Here are a few simple tips that I use all the time as I’m writing in Google Docs to save me time and help me be productive as I write without getting off track.
1. Quickly Add HTML Header Tags (H2, H3, Body Text, etc.)
Since HTML header tags are SO important in writing for the web, I LOVE that I can easily add them in a Google Doc using keyboard shortcuts!
Just like how you can use keyboard shortcuts to make text bold, italicized, underlined etc. (and I do use those all the time for blogging and for my dayjob), you can use easy to remember shortcuts for adding H tags! I freely move between body (“normal”) text, H2s, and H3s and links (more on that next) all with simple keyboard shortcuts. It really helps me limit the constant mental shift to “time to click 5 things to make this an H3…” in the middle of writing.
Also, using H tags as I write really helps me visually break down my text into sections and preview what the reader will see. Using H tags (Styles) in a Google Doc makes using the Outline feature possible, which I love (I’ll talk more about that in a minute)! The Outline created a clickable table of contents in your Google Doc so you can easily click back and forth to different parts of your content.
Here are the Text shortcuts I use on my Mac:
- Body Text: Option + Command + 0
- H2: Option + Command + 2
- H3: Option + Command + 3
Use the text Styles Dropdown:
If you want to go the “clicking” route, it’s still pretty quick in Google Docs.
In the menu bar, go to the Styles dropdown (to the left of your font dropdown, and it should say “Styles” if you hover over it with your mouse). You can either select a style and then start typing, or type something, highlight the text, and then select a style.
TIP: If you can’t remember which HTML tag (Style in Google Docs) you assigned to a piece of text, just click on the text with your mouse, and the assigned style will populate in the menu bar inside the Styles dropdown.
2. Quickly Insert Links
Of course, you’ll probably want to go back and update most of these to open in a new tab, and also add the NoFollow tag (here’s how to make your links NoFollow in Gutenberg). I find it really helpful and easy to apply most if not all of my links right inside of a Google Doc, especially since I’d have to go in an edit any external links in Gutenberg anyway. And if I’m linking to something within my own site, I don’t have to worry about editing the link I don’t want to or forget. Either way, if I already know I want to add a link it’s just easier to add it while I’m writing, and if I want to edit it, it’s already highlighted as a link so it’s easy to find in WordPress.
To apply a link to some text, select the text and press Command + K. You can also navigate to Insert > Link.
Now, let’s look at some more great tips for writing blog posts (or other content) in Google Docs!
3. Quickly Check Your Word Count
While I don’t want my word count constantly looming over me as I write, I do like to check it periodically to gauge my efforts. On my mac, I do this by pressing Command + Shift + C. You can also find it under Tools > Word count.
To exit the word count pop up, I just hit the Escape key.
Clean Up Your Workspace (Hide Everything You Don’t N
I dunno about you, but when I’m writing a blog post, I don’t typically need to see a page ruler, options for creating equations, or an options menu at all. Let’s look at how you can clear away some of the visual “junk” within a few seconds.
Hide the Page Ruler in a Google Doc
View > Show ruler
Hide the Equation Toolbar in a Google Doc
View > Show equation toolbar
Minimize the Top Menu and Side Menu in a Google Doc
Control + Shift + F (works on my Mac)
Or, click on the arrow all the way to the right of the menu bar.
Hide the Entire Top + Side Options Areas in a Google Doc (Full-Screen)
View > Full screen
Press the Escape key to exit full screen and show any visible menus again.
Utilize the “Outline” F
eature (like a Clickable Table of Contents)
If you’ve been utilizing the “Styles” dropdown for all of your text, you can enable this feature to view ALL of your header styles in a beautiful, clickable Table of Contents outline, to the left of your document! This is SO helpful if you’re writing a particularly long post (multiple pages), and want to quickly reference (and click t!) where a particular heading is inside of the document.
How to enable the “Outline” feature in Google Docs
View > Show document outline
How to Remove Elements you don’t want to see in the Outline
Outline getting too cluttered? No problem! Hover over any item and click the “X” to remove it from the outline. I often like to remove everything but the H2s (main headers) so I can easily navigate to the main sections.
Utilize the Comments Feature (like Visual Notes to Self)
The default Comments feature inside of Google Docs is actually pretty sweet! All of your comments will show up (fully visible) on the side of your document, and when you click on a comment box it will highlight the text, image, etc. it’s meant to reference!
You can of course use comments collaboratively to get or give feedback, but I still love to use them just for myself, updating them as I go and accomplish any to-do’s.
How Comments in Google Docs “Move” with you in Cool Ways!
Comments in Google Docs “Move” with you in intuitive ways, which is why I think they are one of the most useful and persuasive reasons for writing inside of a Google Doc in the first place! Here’s what I mean:
- They scroll with you as you scroll up and down the page, while staying closely inline with their related piece of text or image. This is the simplest “Movement,” but the most important!
- As you add or subtract more text and info into your doc, your comments will automatically move up or down to accommodate the space!
- If you CUT a piece of text / image with a comment and PASTE it somewhere else in the document, the comment will be cut and then reappear next to the text!! (whaaat?!)
- If you COPY a piece of text / image with a comment and PASTE it to more than one place, the SAME comment will apply to both… and FOLLOW YOU as you click on the various copies of text or images through your document… talk about smart and cool! Also a space saver, if you have a lot of comments.
- If you DELETE a piece of text or an image with a comment, the comment gets deleted as well.
How to add a comment in Google Docs
To add a comment, select (highlight with your mouse) the piece of text, image, etc. on which you want to comment. You can select a single word, or multiple paragraphs! Then you can either right-click and select “Comment,” click the “+” icon in the top toolbar, OR, hover your mouse over to the right side of your document and a “+”/Comment box will magically appear!
TIP for using comments inside of a Google Doc: Since all of the text in a comment remains visible (which I loooove!!), you still might want to be conservative with it so they don’t get too cramped and cluttered, especially if you write a lot of comments (Notes to Self) like I do. I use the “reply” option sparingly because it takes up unnecessary space, and instead try to simply edit a comment if and when it needs to be updated. For instance, if I originally wrote “need an image here” and I now have an image, I will either edit the comment to something like “need to resize / label image,” “resolve” to file it away as completed, or simply delete the comment if the task is finished.
How to resolve (complete), edit or delete a comment in Google Docs
To “resolve” and file away a comment inside of a Google Doc, hover over the light gray word “Resolve” inside of any comment box and click.
To edit or delete a comment, over over the 3 gray dots to the right of the “Resolve” button, and there you can choose to edit, delete, or even LINK to that comment if you so wish.
Google Docs to WordPress
As I mentioned earlier, I realized that once my draft is done in Google Docs, I can simply copy the entire thing and paste it into the WordPress(.org) Gutenberg editor. Everything will be broken down into the proper blocks including my H2s and H3s, and my links will be in place. This is what I typically do, and it works so great that often I don’t have to edit anything in WordPress!