Why I Write Quickly — and You Should, Too

Some people say that writing fast means you’re a hack. Here’s why they’re wrong.

A person types on a black typewriter. Photo from Pexels.

I’m a freelance writer with a day job, so my time is always at a premium. If I don’t write quickly, I wouldn’t produce anything at all. Now, some people have told me that if I write too quickly my writing won’t be any good. They’re only half right.

When I say I write fast, I don’t mean that I jot down a draft and then send it off to an editor without careful editing. Quick writing isn’t an end to itself. It’s a tool I use to finish my whole project faster, often in half the time I used to. Here’s how I do it.

Set a timer for 20 minutes

In those minutes I type nonstop. I don’t worry about typos or connecting ideas. The point is just to get my initial thoughts onto the page. The first five minutes sometimes feel like a waste —nothing comes to mind. When that happens, I just type “nothing comes to mind” over and over again until something clicks. If I write for a full 20 minutes, something always clicks. Every time, without fail, words start pouring out and soon I have a few paragraphs (or more) to work with. The paragraphs aren’t beautiful, but they’re clay to mold into something beautiful. And that’s SO much better than working from a blank page. The key here is don’t stop. Write fast and keep going, because if you stop you lose momentum and the ideas dry up.

Reread what you wrote and find the good stuff

In her wonderful book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about the importance of writing “morning pages,” which basically consist of freewriting like what I describe above. But unlike me, Cameron suggests putting the pages aside when you’re finished and never looking at them again. This technique has worked wonders for many people, but I use freewriting differently. Once I’ve finished my 20 minute “quick write,” I go back and reread what I wrote and highlight the good parts. Sometimes I’ll have just a few words, other times I’ll have whole paragraphs. Whatever the length, the good bits are always more than what I started with, which was nothing.

Once I’ve identified the good bits I underline them (if using a notebook) or copy and paste them into a separate document (if using a computer). Those good bits become the start of my next freewrite.

Set a timer for another 20 minutes

At this point, you might be thinking I’m crazy. Isn’t the point of freewriting to get on with the “real” writing? Well, yes and no. In my own practice, I use freewriting a second time to build on my initial good ideas. For me, quick writing a second time through, without stopping, allows me to write freely while at the same time benefiting from the good ideas I just generated. In other words, my second “freewrite” isn’t so much a freewrite as it is a very fast “real write.” This second burst of writing is almost always more polished and brimming with good ideas, even though I did it quickly.

Edit with an eye for publishing

Once you have a second draft, it’s time to move on to the polishing stage. Now’s the time to write with the eye of an editor. Straighten out those metaphors, clean up the typos, throw out the unnecessary phrases.

But let’s pause a moment to reflect on how we got here. If you’re like the old me, then getting to this stage can take you hours, maybe even days. That’s because old me would stare for hours at a blank page, only to delete and rewrite every other sentence. But new me doesn’t have time to mess around with that. New me writes quickly to get the words on the page so I have material to work with. Then, new me engages in a second quick write to make those ideas even stronger — much stronger. By time new me gets to the editing stage, the majority of the work is done. And look at the time difference. Old me would write for hours to get a workable draft. New me takes only 40 minutes to get here.

Quick writing quite literally changed my life: I now have more time to write, which means I’m finishing more projects, which means I’m earning more money. Don’t let the naysayers fool you. Quick writing isn’t hacky writing, it’s smart writing.