“How do you write so fast?”
Everyone wants to know the secrets of professional writing. Even those who aren’t seeking professional writing careers are wondering.
Every entrepreneur needs to be able to write. Email, social media content, website copy, the list of content is endless. And for most at the starting line, writing is one of the numerous tasks you’re required to learn and embrace.
Most people can put one word in front of the other. But how can you earn money from writing, in every avenue of business, if it takes all day to create one paragraph?
We don’t always have to write fast. For some, writing slow and enjoying every moment of the process is part of the pleasure. And if it brings you the results you set out to achieve, then keep your pace. I would never suggest fixing what isn’t broken.
Yet, there are so many people who lament that writing is a slow and frustrating process. And they would do anything in their power to write with greater speed. Many people in my life, who aren’t professional writers, proclaim they would enjoy writing more if it didn’t take so long.
The people willing to pay you for your work value how fast you write. As most pay based on how many words you write, those who can write faster generally get paid more. Why?
Because the more words you can write in a day, the more earning potential you have.
Most paying clients will preference shorter turnaround times, too. We’ve become a society of demand. When we want something, we want instant delivery. Writers face those same time pressures, with the expectation of speedy service. Clients will pay a premium for expedited turn-around times, providing extra opportunities for earning.
There is monetary value in speed.
I can write thousands of words per day. I can produce five hundred words in twenty minutes. I’m fast, and there are many who’ve wanted to replicate my speed.
I could outline an eternity of tips and tricks that encourage healthy writing. I could say:
- Write in a space that maximises your creativity
- Write with a tight deadline, forcing you to write quicker
- Stretch your fingers and hands to enable limber movement on the keyboard
- Devote time specifically to writing
- Practice makes perfect
- Don’t quit
Yet, when I’m asked how I write considerable amounts with significant speed, I rarely answer with any of the above tips. Most of the people asking about speed have tried all these tactics, and more than likely have failed. These tips don’t resolve the fundamental issues that slow down the writing process.
So what do I say to people who want my secret to my writing speed?
“Write like no one is editing,” I say.
Don’t stop to critique or filter.
Even the most committed writers can find a reason to stop writing. As human beings, we’re easily distracted and can find any excuse to abandon writing. For me, a toilet break provides enough time to start thinking about the million other tasks on the agenda. Distraction is only normal.
One of the keys to speed writing is to avoid our instinctual desire to succumb to ‘critique distractions’.
Outside of everyday distractions, writers face ‘critique distractions’. It’s the little voice in our head that tells us what we’re writing is bad, irrelevant or inappropriate for the piece. When this little voice creeps into our writing time, it forces us to stop what we’re writing, breaking our momentum and speed.
The way to avoid ‘critique distractions’ is to write without stopping. With resting, bathroom breaks, and unavoidable occurrences as your only excuse, keep writing. Avoid yielding to any of the following “critique distractions”:
- Don’t edit your writing (and I will explain more in the next point)
- Don’t critique — Don’t start judging what you’ve written by passing value judgement. The process of re-reading and analysing will slow you down.
- Don’t filter — Don’t try to censor or remove points you’re unsure about making. Write everything you’re thinking onto the page and leave it there.
- Only revisit to remember — Only recap your most recent written sentences to remember where you’re up to in your writing.
Don’t write like it’s the final draft.
The writing process involves drafting, editing, more writing, editing before “publishing”. Most writers keep the editing and proofreading steps separate from the drafting process. And for a good reason. It allows us to review our work, and look at it from a refreshed perspective. We then edit with the idea of correcting any issues.
Most people who struggle to write quickly often suffer from perfectionist drafting. They write as if it was an exam or test. Every word has to be perfect from the first time they write it. The process ends up being so slow and painstaking that they don’t want to write again. Or they assume they aren’t gifted writers, which isn’t always true.
To increase your writing speed, write like it’s the first draft. To do this, you need to:
- Understand the importance of drafting — Drafting and editing are two separate aspects of writing. Drafting is about getting the ideas to paper and laying down the foundations of the piece. Editing is about removing what doesn’t work, changing the mistakes, correcting the overall piece ready for publishing.
- Follow the draft and editing method — You can’t effectively edit without all the intentions on the page first, so why are you trying to do it whilst drafting? Split your writing into two separate events. Write your draft. Complete your editing.
- Ditch your perfectionist attitude during drafting — Too many writers spend the drafting processing writing with the perfectionist’s eye. It’s impossible to do both at once with any speed. Imagine it like this. Trying to do both at once is like trying to bake and decorate the cake at the same time. Impossible, right?!
Perfectionist drafting and critique distractions often go hand in hand, yet they are very different. Perfectionist drafting is this idea that you’re doing the whole writing process in one sitting. You’re trying to do too much with your writing all at once that it slows you down. As opposed to critique distractions, which are the voices telling you to stop writing altogether.
Both are intended to slow you down but in different ways. Unfortunately, writers can suffer from both, and at the same time.
Ignore spelling and formatting (at first).
Most writers I know draft on electronic platforms, such as Word or Pages. Most of these programs offer notifications or highlight words to fix. The little red underline appears or words become bold that are incorrectly spelled. I often write online, and with Grammarly installed into my browser, I’m constantly hit with pop-ups and notifications about the errors I’m making.
The notifications are designed to capture your attention. They’re saying “look at me, fix me, you’ve made a mistake!” And whilst that is helpful during the editing process, it’s a distraction during drafting. As you may have learned by now, distractions are the enemy of writing speed. These notifications are another distraction designed to slow you down and break your momentum.
Stopping to correct every single one of them will lead to writing fatigue. Instead:
- Ignore the spelling and grammatical during drafting— You will pick up the majority of spelling and grammatical errors during your editing process. Though you may think you will forget them or miss them if you don’t act on them now, have faith in your editing process. The little pop-up notifications won’t go away either, so you will always have the reminder for later.
- Leave formatting to your editing stage — Reshaping paragraph lengths, title structures, and formatting, such as bold and italics, zaps your momentum. Depending on what you’re writing for, formatting can take hours to make sure you’ve met guidelines and specific requirements. Referencing comes to mind when I mention formatting. Considering how painstaking this can be, there is little wonder this slows down writing speed.
Don’t look at the word count.
I used to write considerable amounts of copy for paying clients. This was usually set word counts, or with a minimum word count, I needed to reach.
I remember when I first started I became fixated on the word count. I would write three sentences and then check the word count. I would write another three and do the same thing. It was this tedious, repetitive process that slowed me down. It didn’t help me hit the word count any faster, knowing how many words I had written.
- Stop looking at the word count — Once I committed to stop checking the word count, I used to overwrite for clients. For a 350 word article, I would write 500 in half the time. When I let the words flow without pressure, speed wasn’t an issue for me.
Finish ideas later.
Much like the word count, we can pile extreme pressure on ourselves to produce the perfect content in one sitting. But the best writers will tell you that most of what they write happens in stages. They will write in bursts. They will write for a couple of hours, then come back to it. They won’t finish the entire piece in one complete sitting.
- Don’t stare at a blank page for hours, hoping for inspiration— Sitting on an idea, pondering over how to complete an article, will slow you down. You could sit at your computer for hours to days waiting to finish a thought. Or find the missing pieces to the puzzle. It means it can take you weeks to write one piece when you could have completed it in half.
Remember: writing is a process.
My underlying message is to understand the writing process. Learn how writers produce their content and understand why they take this approach.
And then embrace it.
There is no such thing as perfection on the first draft. There is no such thing as completion on the first draft. There is no such thing as getting it right on the first go.
But when we focus on this idea of getting it right the first time, we eat into our writing speed. When we find reasons and distractions to slow us down, to make us question our writing, we deplete our speed. When we break the mould of the way writers operate, we fall behind. The system we’ve learned from established writers isn’t broken, so stop trying to fix it.
These barriers are our imaginary speed bumps on the road. They slow us down and encourage us to take our foot off the brakes. If we want to gain speed, we need to stay with our foot on the accelerator.
Write like no one is editing, and you will get there. And fast.
I’m Ellen McRae, writer by trade and passionate storyteller by nature. I write about figuring about love and relationships by analysing my experiences. Some of the stories are altered to protect the people in my life. But my feelings are never compromised.
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