Myriad books, classes and methods are written and taught on writing faster. And in an ever more sophisticated digital world, productivity, and multi-tasking rule. ‘Now’, ‘more’, and ‘faster’ have become the watchwords of society.
It’s very easy to get caught up, and ground up, in that machine. I fight it all the time. As writers, words are our livelihood. The more, and faster we’re able to write, the more we make. Right?
Ain’t necessarily so, to my way of thinking.
As a freelancer for nearly twenty years, as well as an author for the last five of those years, I’m still not the fastest writer, but I’m more organized, disciplined, and efficient and thereby, more productive in the time I have. And the truth is, I’ve got so many ideas, I’m eager to get to them.
I’ve come to the conclusion that some pieces are just easier and/or harder to write at a particular time in your day or life. Our moods, health, and circumstances all affect our process.
No matter. I want to write the best piece I can, every time, and give my all to it.
Here are some of my ‘efficiency’ tips.
Know What You’re Going to Write About
Knowing what you’re going to write about before you ever sit down to write is both key and a deceptively simple step. Not taking heed has bitten me time and again.
Often, this involves me deciding the night before what that will be, and letting it percolate overnight, be it fiction or non-fiction. I’ll often wake up with great ideas. Thank you, subconscious mind.
If it’s fiction, I don’t want to waste time by re-reading a scene, hunting for another, referring to my notes, etc. Then, before I know it, an hour has passed and I’m staring at the scant one hundred words I’ve managed to get down.
To address these issues, I outline. A lot. I use Scrivener and a series of spreadsheets to get my head around a word count and details before I ever begin.
Same goes for non-fiction. I try to break what I’m working on into chunks. Sometimes it’s as simple as introduction, main body, and conclusion. Sometimes it’s a particular paragraph of the article. But it’s specific.
As a freelancer, I’m often held to strict word counts, and this serves me well as an author too. I have a good feel, most of the time, for how long it takes me to write a 400, 600 or 900-word article, for example. (popular article lengths for a magazine I wrote for, for years) By applying the same concepts to fiction, I’m able to write with laser focus.
Easy to say. Hard to do.
Turn off the phone. The television. Avoid the internet. Some writers listen to music for inspiration, but that’s not my personal preference. I’ll sometimes even move to a different spot in the house to write so I don’t see all the chores piling up around me, demanding my attention.
After I know what I’m going to write, I employ the Pomodoro method, which is a 25-minute period of time during which you write and don’t stop, followed by a 5-minute break. (Repeat as often as desired.)
There are timers on the Internet, and I’m sure there are apps. An old fashioned cooking timer works too. Fiction writers sometimes have group ‘sprinting’ sessions, during which they write without stopping for a specified period of time.
Staying focused works for you in two ways. Not only do you produce material by not stopping, but you also gain momentum. And the more you do it, the easier it’ll become. All the while, you’re building mental muscle.
At any given time, I’ve got at least three or more ideas working (in my head and on my laptop) for different pieces. If I’m really stuck on one, I try working on another. Lots of times, I’ll come back to the troublesome piece and the light bulb goes off.
Getting away from a piece for a few hours or days gives you perspective. The ideas and words have simmered, their flavors have developed. Suddenly, you know exactly which word to use. What to cut. Add. Patience gifts us with clarity.
Strangely, sometimes slowing down can actually help you speed up. While it’s counterintuitive, it works.
One of my go-to inspiration methods is to print it out the piece and make edits and notes by hand. The tactile experience of paper and pen in my hands, of actually hearing the pen move across the paper gives me a whole new perspective and brings an undefinable joy to my process.
This is How Freelancing Helped Me Succeed as an Author
Sometimes, fiction and non-fiction aren’t so different.
Use the Time You Have
I work a full-time job. I get up half an hour early to have my coffee and write. When I’m still not fully awake, I’m able to connect thoughts and ideas that have bubbled to the surface, and often, that I didn’t even know I had.
This is the whole ‘percolation’ concept I mentioned earlier and also what I call the heavy lifting for a piece. Grammar, structure, and polish can all come later when I’m not in that ‘alpha’ state of mind.
It’s amazing what I can get done in that half an hour. There’s an urgency about working within that limit that often opens the flood gates.
I’m also a morning person. What’s the best time of day for you? Use it to your advantage. I can often write more during that time, with more clarity and imagination, than I can at night after I’ve worked all day. In other words, what takes me a half-hour in the morning might take an hour or more in the evening, and that ‘p.m’ writing isn’t nearly as good.
Many writers are regular people, with full-time jobs, children, and a host of other responsibilities. The truth is, there is no perfect time to write, no perfect place, no perfect set of circumstances — and thinking there is limits us tremendously. I use what the time I have to the best of my ability.
Use Your Voice
I love, absolutely love, the voice recognition/microphone in my Smartphone. When I’m getting ready in the morning, when I’m in the car, when I’m waiting in line, I can get my thoughts down quickly and easily in One Note. Later, it’s copy and paste, and I’m off to the races.
Turn Off Your Internal Editor
In other words, get your hands, er, page dirty. Throw the ideas on the screen or paper. Free write. Brainstorm. Slop down the ideas. Have fun with it. Write. Edit later.
Often, I’ll wind up having ideas for another story or article, or two or three or four. It’s the ultimate two for one special — you’re roughing out one article and getting ideas for another. Trust me, what you come up with will pleasantly surprise you.
NOTE: I dedicate time each week to brainstorm ideas, then go from there to pick which ones I want to fully develop.
Don’t Shortchange the Muse
You can’t. So don’t even try. The way I see it, it’s like messing with Mother Nature. You’ll always lose. Not only will you hurt your creative process and your writing, but you’ll also hurt yourself by being stressed out and exhausted.
I’m mindful of how I’m feeling when I’m writing. If I’m not enjoying the process, if my enthusiasm is waning, I slow down and refill the well, and in so doing I proactively avoid burnout.
Writing faster, more efficiently, in the way I’ve been describing, is satisfying to me. It gives me a good balance. It allows me to organize my thoughts and I think I produce better pieces overall in this way.
But I’ll never sacrifice quality for speed. Writing, by its very nature, is a thoughtful, contemplative process. Only by recognizing and honoring that can we as writers become more efficient and yes, faster at what we do.
Rebecca E. Neely is a reader, storyteller, blogger and author. Careers, past and present, include freelance writing, accounting, mother, problem solver, doer and head bottle washer. She is the author of A Mighty Good Man and the Crossing Realms paranormal romance series. Find Rebecca on Twitter @RebeccaNeely1.