Full disclosure: I am a painfully slow writer.
Once I muster some motivation and go through all of my research and planning, it may be a matter of hours or days before I have anything resembling a finished product. I’m not proud to share my truth with you, but I own it. I only tell you this to disclose that this may be the most overtly self-interested post that I’ve ever written.
Here’s the premise: I researched and reached out to a lot of writers to ask them for tips on how to write faster. I’m only sharing these tips with you because I figure it would be more than a little disingenuous to keep them to myself. And SPOILER ALERT- these tips work. I wrote this post on Scrivener and it took me about an hour to compile and elaborate on my points. All the research was done upfront and I powered through the writing pretty quickly (I’m sure there are typos somewhere that are testament to this).
At your worst you are probably a better writer than I am, but the writers you see below are pretty extraordinary. Hopefully you find something in this collective wisdom that helps you with your writing. I did.
1. Do your research upfront.
If you’re not doing research for your posts, you probably have stronger opinions about things than I do. I find that mid-post research does tend to take me out of my writing flow, which is where upfront research helps out.
Writer Daniel Jackson recommends doing 100% of your research upfront:
“Do the necessary research and come up with your ideas before sitting down to write. It is much easier to cut out information and leave the most interesting than to struggle to come up with enough to say.”
Daphne Gray-Grant, author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better, (this is one of my go-to books on writing – I highly recommend it) similarly recommends researching until you can write approximately 80% of your piece.
Too often I am guilty of finding a topic, writing a piece, and publishing it without a lot of contemplation. And it’s often evident in the end-product.
Yael Kochman, Head of Content for Teradata Mobile (which is a mobile engagement and automation solutions for enterprise and mid-market companies), says that spending some time to cogitate on and research a topic can result in a faster writing process and a better end-product:
“When I have an idea for a new article, I first write it down and then let it sit in my head for a few days. I think about it often and when reading content online I search for resources to compliment my idea and help me shape it. This way, by the time I sit down to write the article I already have the structure of it as well as resources to include. This way I cut my writing time by half or more.”
3. Engineer your environment.
A popular writing tip from multiple writers is to engineer your writing environment, and there are a variety of ways that you can do this:
Slate’s Michael Agger suggests that maintaining consistency with your writing is key to speed:
“Try to limit your working hours, write at a set time each day, and try your best not to emotionally flip out or check email every 20 seconds.”
Carolyn Nicander Mohr, owner, founder and writer of the Wonder of Tech suggests adopting a focused writing mindset:
“If you don’t have a lot of time, set aside a period where you won’t be interrupted, even if it’s only 20 minutes, sit down at the computer and don’t get up until you have the rough draft written. Take a short break, do one edit and add images. Done.”
Writer Corinne Kerston recommends controlling as much of your physical writing environment as possible:
“My biggest tip for writing faster is to eliminate distractions. Find a quiet space, turn off your phone and Internet (use Internet-blocking software like Freedom if you have to), set a timer and just write without doing any editing.”
Finally, Tara Hornor of Envato recommends maintaining a time-focus by using (a variation of) the Pomodoro technique:
“A timer can help keep you focused, but it also forces you to take breaks. And breaks keep the mind fresh. Some timers, such as the Focus Booster, provide specified work and break times, such as 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break. Another common workflow is 10 minutes on, 2 minutes break. You will just need to find out which length of time works best for you.”
4. Refine your main idea.
Writer Melanie Pianola recommends honing in on your main idea before you do anything else. She writes that the clarity focuses your writing:
“Nothing slows writing down more than not knowing what it is you want to say or what you’re writing about. Clarify and refine the main idea and major topics you have to cover beforehand, then identify and organize the research articles and materials that back up your story.”
5. Write an outline.
From an early age, we’re all taught to write an outline, then a first draft, revision, et cetera. By and large I have ignored all of these writing lessons. But Gazalla Gaya, SEO consultant and writer says that an outline can be extremely helpful to speed your writing process:
“When you write, create an outline of points that you want to cover. After that, simply expand on these points. And keep your language simple, conversational and friendly. This helps your reader understand and identify better with your message.”
6. … Or use a mindmap.
Earlier I mentioned former journalist and author of 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better, Daphne Grey-Grant. She is a huge advocate for mind-mapping as an alternative to outlines. Here’s how she explains the process:
“Simply turn a piece of paper sideways (landscape fashion) and write your idea or your angle in the centre of the page. Draw a circle around it. Then write the next idea that springs into your head. Draw a circle around that one too. And keep up with this “brainstorming” until you know what you want to write.”
7. … or make a rough outline.
Writer and strategist Lauren Mangiaforte says that a very rough outline helps her to organize her writing and write faster:
“You don’t have to go hardcore with an outline, but I find that jotting down 3-4 words or concepts I want to hit in the order I want to hit them in can make a huge difference in terms of speed.”
8. Be prepared to write anytime.
I used to fancy myself a songwriter, but often when I would sit down to play guitar I wouldn’t write down my ideas. I could have been Katy Perry.
Writer (and doctor) Martina McGowan points out that preparedness is an important aspect of writing:
“Prolific writing, like any other good writing comes from habit. Always have writing materials nearby, even at the bedside. Capture every thought in its raw form, refine later.”
Of course there are many software solutions that can digitally help as well. Evernote is my weapon of choice, but also OneNote, email, action-trigger connector apps like IFTTT and Zapier, and on-and-on.
9. Be the end user. Often.
Slate writer Michael Agger writes that reading is an undervalued aspect of being a fast (and a good) writer:
“Read everything, all the time. That’s the only way to build the general knowledge that you can tuck away in long-term memory, only to one day have it magically surface when you’re searching for just the right turn of phrase.”
10. Use Scrivener.
If you get nothing else from this post, try Scrivener.
Scrivener is a game-changing application for writers, because it simplifies so many different aspects of writing.
On a basic level Scrivener acts as a database for word documents. So instead of writing this article all at once, I took input and research and put each piece of information into its own separate document. When I’d done all my research, I arranged all of the microdocuments into a logical order, wrote and formatted them, and then used the compile function to import it into my site.
Here’s a video that makes the process a little clearer, but this is an essential app for writers who are doing long-form or research intensive posts.
Hat tip to Inger Mewburn for introducing me to Scrivener.
11. Turn off spell-check and backspace.
One of the biggest impediments to flow (especially for wordsmiths) is self-editing. Writer Samar Owais advises to stay fast and in the flow of your writing by deliberately avoiding spell-check and backspace:
“avoid pressing the backspace key for unnecessary changes…. and stick to it. If you make a mistake, whether it’s a spelling mistake or a grammatical mistake, just move on… if you’re one of those writers who get bugged by the spell checker, you need to turn it off.”
Writer Michael Pollack makes a similar argument against editing while writing:
“Ultimately, you need to practice writing without correcting yourself as you write. You need to take the Censor out of the picture altogether until you get into the editing phase.”
12. Skip the small talk.
Evan LaPage of Hootsuite advises to avoid the introduction and to initially focus on the body of your piece. He writes:
“Fast writers often skip their introduction. This allows them to write the piece without trying to fit it into the constraints of a lead they laboured over in advance.”
13. Keep your audience top of mind.
Writer Don Perkins says that his key to speed is myopic focus on the audience that he is writing for:
“I write based on a simple formula:
- Who is my audience? (Buyer persona development)
- What do they care about? (Relevance)
- Why should they listen to me? (Value proposition)”
14. Write with the end in mind.
Writer Gibson Goff says that his key to writing faster is to vet the end and then write with a clear destination:
“Have a beginning. But also have what the end of the story should look like, lest the story take off in the wrong direction and never get finished.”
15. Get into a flow.
Writer and content strategist Misty Belardo-McPadden advises not to overthink it and just get into a writing flow:
“Write write write. First, write without editing, letting your ideas flow. Next, go back and read what you wrote outlaid and look for ways to condense and tighten your message. Edit unnecessary words and phrases. This can be challenging, but with practice it becomes easier.“
16. Start with a summary.
Editor and writer Lori Quayle has a lot of experience writing longer technical documents. She says that writing an executive summary can help to speed the process of the rest of the document:
“My tip for writing something technical or generally boring is to spend some quality time on the executive summary. It is often the only part of the report that top-level executives spend time on. It can serve as a subconscious elevator pitch (for future gigs) if it succinctly conveys the essence or bottom line. Having the summary done will help you stay focused and perhaps finish faster by not including tangential info.”
17. Start with bullet points.
Carol Roth, author of The Entrepreneur Equation writes that she finds it faster to start with bullet points and then elaborate:
“After brainstorming write down a list of “bullets” that mirror the key points that you want to make in support of the main topic. It’s much easier to write explanatory sentences once you have the main themes and issues sorted out.”
18. Use your words.
To write this section, I am using Nuance’s Dragon Natural Speaking software. If you can maintain a linear train of thought, speech recognition software can be very helpful to speed your writing process.
I was able to dictate this with no spelling errors in about 30 seconds using my USB microphone.
19. Work on more than one project at a time.
Author Nalini Singh recommends diverting your focus from a singular piece of content to multiple projects. She explains the benefits:
“I’ve only started doing this over the past year, after I read an interview with another writer who spoke about having 3-4 hours of concentration, after which he needed to switch to a new project to again get those 3-4 hours of concentration. So I started working on two projects simultaneously. I quickly realized it doesn’t work if I’m at the same stage in both projects. It’s not different enough to excite me. Instead, I work on books in different stages.”
20. Handwrite instead of typing
Author Karen Dionne says that writing by hand makes her far faster and more prolific than any other change she’s made to her writing:
“when I did walk away from the keyboard and literally take up the pen, the difference in my creative output was astounding. Instead of writing 2,500 words in a typical week, I consistently wrote between 3,000 and 5,000 words a DAY. Good words, that didn’t require so much tweaking and polishing.”
Bonus: Find a writing partner
Writer Jim Woods describes that two of his writer friends found that they could produce much more writing faster when they collaborated:
“Two writing friends of mine have cranked out over 2 million words in 2014… When you find someone who just clicks with you, you’ll find yourself firing on all cylinders. You focus on your strengths, and your co-writer focuses on their strengths.”
I am going to write about 20,000 words this week which is far more than I would usually do. The fact that I’m able to do it is entirely attributable to the advice in this post. This stuff works. Especially Scrivener, which is currently keeping my next five posts in various states of completion.
You can see that many different writers have techniques to accelerate their process, hopefully you found some of them useful. And if you have more tips
for me to become a faster writer to share, please feel welcome to post in the comments.