To know how to write faster is something that almost everyone needs. Who hasn’t had to compose a report for the boss in record time? Gotten frustrated with the amount of time that it took to pound out a simple blog post? Realized that their hourly rate for a project is plummeting with every minute spent dithering over the structure of an article or sentence?
Unfortunately, knowing how to write faster does not come naturally to most of us. We spend too much time worrying about the quality of our writing, struggling with organizational problems, or thinking about how our audience will perceive our copy to get the job done quickly. The good news is that writing fast is a skill that can be developed with a little practice. Here’s how.
How to Write Faster
Make notes first.
When you’re in a time crunch, it’s tempting to dive right into a writing project without thinking out what you’re going to say. But your writing will almost always flow faster if you carve out some time to jot down notes about the points you want and need to include in your text. Writing notes, particularly in longhand, removes the pressure to form your ideas as beautifully worded prose from the start.
Gather your research in advance.
Researching and writing simultaneously slows down the writing process. Before you start writing, complete your research as much as possible. If you find you need more information while writing, insert bold bracketed information in your text noting the information you need (e.g., [need more stats here]) and come back to it later. Breaking your writing flow to research just increases the risk of you getting sidetracked.
Eliminate all distractions.
To write quickly, you have to get “into the zone.” Shut down all extraneous browser screens, turn off your cell phone, forget you ever heard of email. If you work in an office, send the message to colleagues that you aren’t available to chat by closing your door or posting a polite sign outside of your cubicle noting that you are working to meet a deadline and can only respond to the most urgent matters. Also, take some time to organize your workspace before you begin to write. A cluttered desk can provide numerous distractions – not to mention bring out the procrastinating neat-freak in you who suddenly must stop writing to clean everything up.
All the preliminaries done? Good. Now, in the eloquent words of author and blogger Alyssa Bowman, “throw up on the screen.” Let all your words flow out without worrying about how it sounds, the structure, or who is going to read the finished product later. Above all, don’t go back and change a word of what you’ve written until you’re finished writing. Editing is for later. When you’ve designated it time for writing, just write.
Set a time limit.
If the idea of vomiting up your words without self-editing or stalling for an unspecified length of time intimidates you, set a time limit for each writing session. Set a timer for 15 minutes and write non-stop until the bell rings. When those 15 minutes are up, reset the timer and start again. Work this way until the words begin to flow so naturally that you stop looking at the clock.
Walk away from it.
If you’re truly stuck or blocked, don’t be afraid to stop writing. Taking a break and doing something unrelated to your task can clear your mind and stop you from succumbing to the panic and fear that often accompanies writer’s block. If you have time to let the piece sit overnight, even better. Being able to look at your writing with fresh eyes will vastly improve your flow.
Don’t be hard on yourself.
When the writing isn’t going as quickly as you’d hoped, a common time-killer is to spend time cursing yourself and your slow brain for not producing faster. But, as I’m sure you know, self-loathing does not produce speedier results. If you find yourself freaking out, remember that writing really is cognitively difficult work and that even seasoned pros sometimes don’t produce as fast as they’d like. Then set your timer for 15 minutes, and keep on writing.
What tips do you have for writing faster? Please share your comments with us below!
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Great tips, Mike. A couple other things I do: I write with my audience in mind and use analytics to determine what readers want to see.
Using analytics, I discovered that in my work for a former client’s website, readers were far more interested in viewing images than they were at reading posts. For that site, it made more sense for me to craft a title and opening blurb that was long enough to get indexed in search engines, and then get out of the way so readers could consume the media.
When looking at the analytics for another client site, though, readers spent far more time on lengthy op-eds than they did on image-driven posts or shorter “newsy” posts. So I spent less time on creating image galleries and focused instead on angles for my editorial.
This data gave me the perspective to deliver what readers wanted to read at each site, which in turn helped streamline post research. If you’re interested, I wrote about a couple of other ideas to write faster here: http://ridiculouslyefficient.com/2011/11/16/5-habits-of-high-performance-writers
Can you clarify #2, because I often write and research at the same time when outlining my posts.
I’m sure Mike will respond but I’d like to add some experiences of my own.
Some people like to research and write at the same time. However, Mike here wants to say how this may hamper your “in the flow” mood as a writer. It happens with me as well: I am a writer as much as an editor. I always arrange for research in bullet points and create a draft before I even begin writing the final piece.
There are several stages in research. For example, if I am about to compose a set of interview questions for an interviewee, I may produce a rough list of pointers about their background. Next, I might like some points more than others for this particular interview and research a bit more on each of them. Further, I might look for more interviews this person has done in the past and gauge their answering style (Some are very curt while others are expressive with several “ahs” and “umms”).
In summary, keep a few notes of research aside, ready to be used, before you start with the final piece. It gives you a canvas of sorts to paint on.
Thanks for joining the discussion.
In short, I’m tempted to say that point number two simply doesn’t apply to you. If you are able to maintain your writing flow while researching, then please continue to do so. For me, I find that researching while writing has diminishing returns if I’ve prepared thouroughly before hand.
I agree with you, Mike! It’s immensely helpful to have all reference materials ready before writing.
Thanks, nice quick article that fitted in just nice these days. A little inspiration too 🙂
Happy new year also!
I posted this over at Outcast studios: http://outcaststudios.com/forums/index.php/topic/11600-9-ways-to-improve-your-writing/
Thank you; I love this article, as I’m always looking for ways to write more efficiently especially since I like to ink-write first, then type my notes.
Thank you; At least I have been trying to write fast to complete my project
#3 is so dang hard for me! No matter how hard I try it always seems like I get interrupted by someone or something while trying to get in the writing groove. Email, social interactions, phone calls, text messages etc. I like all these tips though. The trick is just finding a way to actually apply them.
Hi Mike, great post.
I find it quicker to write a blog post each day when I start by dictating verbally then re-writing and re-formatting where necessary.
Keep clicking away at that keyboard !
I majored in English as an undergrad, and my post grad degree required a great deal of research and writing. But I did not really learn how to write “fast” until I started writing for newspapers.
The tips in this article are familiar to most of us. Old hat stuff, really, but reliable. The subject of pressure was not addressed in the article, however.
I’m not sure how you can create pressure if something valuable is not at state. Something valuable could be your livelihood, or grades or the publication of a book. The pressure might also come from an editor or publisher breathing down your neck to meet a deadline.
I have several friends who are fairly good writers. They are always telling me they’re “working on something.” They have nothing at stake. There is no pressure, and they consequently treat writing as a past time, a leisure others cannot afford, a game of bridge, marbles, checkers, hopscotch. Treating writing like this is a sure road to a blank page.
Pressure can create problems, too. I’m sure you’ve read articles on the web and in newspapers and journals that read like they were written in five minutes. This could be due to the fact that the editor has not given the writer enough lead time for deadline. On the other hand, the lack of clarity could also be the result of the writer not being suited to the job. I think the last is true more often than we want to believe. Most people still stick with the old and infamous idea that “anybody can write.” This is just not true.
I retired from journalism a while back, and am OK financially. I’m working on two books I’ve wanted to write for several years. The stake for me here is achieving a coveted life goal.
I found a couple first rate publishers who have shown serious interest in one or both of the books. They are now calling on me for the first draft of the first chapter of both books. I’m not worried; I am four or more chapters into the books and very close to a final draft for eight chapters altogether.
I like that the publishers are starting to bellyache a little. I want that. I don’t want them to bellyache too loudly and too long, though. Good publishers know that writers can be timid, hideously withdrawn, and as absurd as an artist rearranging the salt crystals on his food. Good publishers also know how to guide a writer as well as how much pressure to apply and when.
I’m not so touchy that I’ll rearrange words like grains of sand on a beach, but I do like the sound of them bellyaching from time to time. Their bellyaching, and my own, give me what I need to avoid the DTs I’ll suffer if I suddenly withdraw from pressure, DTs as painful and agonizing as any a heroin addict goes through if he is deprived of his needle and spoon. Well, maybe not that bad. But you know what I mean.
I wonder what’s at stake for you when you write.