You can get more writing done by setting aside more time for writing, but you can also get more writing done by learning to write faster in the time you already have.
Look! On the page! It's a bird! It's a plane! Faster than a speeding bullet… it's Super Writer!
Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, being Super Writer isn’t completely realistic. While all writers dream of getting a manuscript down in one go, it’s never actually like that — in fact, the writing process is often long, requiring a lot of thinking time and numerous revisions.
But that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up! Nearly everybody who writes wishes they were able to write much quicker than they do, and the good news is that speed-writing is possible with hard work — and some tricks up your sleeve. Here are 12 tips to get more words on the page in less time.
1. Write at the right time
In other words: determine your “golden hours” for writing. No one writer is the same, so the first step to speedwriting is understanding how you write — and when you work best.
Learn to become in tune with your own rhythm and lifestyle choices, so that you use your energy wisely and work at times that are optimal for you. While some people might swear by an early start, if you’re not a morning person, well… you’re just not a morning person! Others who have kids may want to capitalize on kid-free daycare times to write. Whenever your own productivity peak is, find it to maximize your writing output.
2. Make a basic outline first
Going into writing with nothing planned is likely to be a daunting prospect — and the one thing you don’t want to do is feel overwhelmed before you’ve even started your novel. For this reason, drawing up a skeleton structure before you get down to putting words on a page is going to help the words flow more smoothly. This goes for everything from a book to a blog post. Instead of pausing to spend an hour deliberating over your character’s next move or the next point you want to make, you’ll know exactly what’s coming.
3. Leave the editing for later
We’ve all been there — laboring over a sentence that we just can’t seem to get right. By-and-large, these deliberations drain us of our time and distract us from our ultimate goal: getting words on the page quicker.
Try not to spend more than 10 to 15 seconds on any corrections. While all great work is subject to great editing, it’s much better to treat this as a distinct process that comes after you have your entire first draft nailed down. The fine tuning part can come later — the writing part is now!
4. Fix your writing targets
Having clear, set goals in mind is important for any average writer, but especially essential for the speedy-writer-in-training. Set a timer for a 30-minute writing session. What’s your word count at the end of it? If your goal is to write faster, you should soon be pushing yourself to write X more words than that in your next session.
And don’t forget to give yourself proportional power-ups that will positively reinforce you to keep moving towards the next goalpost. For instance, this could be an example of a personal reward system:
- That book you’ve been eyeing for 5 writing sessions in a row at 500 words per session;
- A nice dinner for 10 writing sessions in a row at 1,000 words per session; and
- Noise-canceling earphones for 15 writing sessions in a row at 2,000 words per session.
5. Minimize disturbances to your routine
Even when you’re trying to work, the internet is only a few clicks away. Before you know it, you’ve spent one minute writing and 120 minutes scrolling through Twitter — which certainly isn’t helping your writing speed.
Try using blockers to minimize the time you spend procrastinating on websites that aren’t about your writing. Most of all, be honest with yourself about your “blind spots” on the internet and consciously eliminate them from your writing routine.
6. Write like a child again
Have you ever wondered how children sometimes outpace adults when it comes to writing? The answer is simple: they don’t overthink it. The key to speedwriting is spending less time mulling over the work you’ve already written, and more time increasing that word count.
So one trick is simply to try to write like a child again. Try to convey your ideas in the most basic terms possible: “Alex got home at 10PM. Finley was really really mad that he was late again. She threw a stuffed animal at his head. But then they talked about it and made up.” Of course, this isn’t going to be the final product that you’re going to hand in to literary agents — but you can go back and revise it later, rather than interrupting your flow now.
7. Try writing sprints
Many writers swear by writing sprints, where you set yourself a short amount of time to write continuously without a break. That means no researching, no going back to edit, no anything but writing. It’s like a sprint race for writers.
If you’re new to it, try starting with a shorter period (for instance, 10 minutes) before building up to longer writing sprints (such as, 30 minutes). Check out the Pomodoro Method if you want a more structured way of introducing writing sprints into your process.
8. Find a friend who’ll hold you accountable
Speaking of sprinting, have you ever convinced a friend to come on a run with you because you just knew you probably wouldn’t bother otherwise? Well, the same principle applies to writing — you might benefit from an ‘accountability buddy’ to keep you on pace. This could be an IRL friend, or somebody you find in the various online writing communities. You could do weekly check-ins with each other, or actually write together on video call. As joggers might know, there’s nothing like having someone hot on your heels to make you speed it up.
9. Use voice typing technology
Many of us talk faster than we write, so why not take advantage of that? Mark Twain once struggled to write his autobiography until he realized that he didn’t have to write it — he could dictate it. In a 1904 letter, he wrote: “I’ve struck it! And I will give it away to you. You will never know how much enjoyment you have lost until you get to dictating your autobiography.”
Luckily, you don’t need a stenographer these days — not when talk-to-text technology is so readily available via your phone and many other apps! Give it a shot, especially if you’re looking to get raw thoughts down on the page quickly.
10. Let go of linearity
The joy of embarking upon your own writing projects is that it’s completely your prerogative where you begin to tackle it. You don’t need to start at the beginning. You could start at the midpoint of your book, or even mid-scene. The only rule is that you have to be excited about getting it down on paper. The more enthusiastic you are about the scene, the more likely it is that the words will flow quickly.
Ernest Hemingway even recommended a psychological hack where you stop and start writing mid-sentence: “Stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day… you will never be stuck.” When you return to it, you’ll know exactly how to get right to it and pick up where you left off.
11. Take care of yourself
Your parents were right — maintaining a healthy lifestyle is fundamental to being our best, most productive selves. It’s highly unlikely you write your best (not to mention most efficient) work when you’re struggling to keep your eyes open, so listen to your body, build the right habits, and do right by it.
Plenty of water, good meals and taking breaks will also help make you match-fit and ready to tackle your writing project productively. This includes posture: be aware of your own posture, and try to stay upright as you can to avoid neck and back pains.
12. Work on something else
Sometimes we hit a wall with a project. Try as we might, we just can’t get the creative juices flowing. And that’s OK. There’s no point banging your head against the wall — a better use of your time would be to move onto a different writing task. This could take the form of a diary entry, starting some fanfiction, or brainstorming ideas. Usually, your brain needs some refreshing novelty to get back into a ‘flow’ state where you can write easily, and spending some time concentrating on a different task is a good way of doing this.
This article is based on Reedsy’s How to Write Faster: 15 Tips for Maximum Productivity post and was revised for Grammar Girl by Rachel Weatherley. It appears here with permission.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.