How to Make Faster Progress on Your Writing Project: Ten Crucial Steps
A few weeks ago, in the Aliventures newsletter, I wrote about how frustrating it can be when the project you’re working on takes a lot longer than you’d hoped. If you missed it, you can read that newsletter online here.
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It’s very normal to find that writing doesn’t progress so smoothly or quickly as you’d hoped. Maybe your project takes a lot longer to get to grips with than you thought it would – or maybe life events get in the way: job changes, health issues, having a baby …
So if you’re not making the progress you’d like to – what can you do about it?
Here are some key things to try:
#1. Set Aside a Regular Time Slot
While I’ve never really agreed with the advice to “write every day”, I do think it’s helpful to have a regular time for your writing. That might be every Thursday evening, or every Saturday afternoon … or whatever fits into your life.
I know how easy it is to think “I’ll write once I get some time,” but that time isn’t going to appear out of nowhere. Block it out in your calendar and it’s much more likely to happen.
#2: Focus on One Project at a Time
Some writers like to have several different projects on the go at once – and that can work fine, if you’re making consistent progress. For other writers, though, it’s all too tempting to start one project, then pick up another, and another – without ever finishing anything.
If that happens to you, pick one project to concentrate on (at least for the next few weeks or months). Don’t switch to something else when it gets tricky: push on through, and you’ll find you’ve made some real progress.
#3: Write Down What You Want to Achieve During Each Session
In last week’s newsletter, I wrote about whether you should track words or track the time spent writing. Either of those can be a useful way to help you stay focused during a writing session – but sometimes your goal might be a bit more complex than “write the next chapter”.
If you’re planning, editing, working on a tricky bit of drafting, or preparing marketing materials try listing exactly what you want to achieve. For instance, “Finish making changes based on my beta readers’ feedback for chapter 10” or “write three different versions of my blurb”.
#4: Write a Plan Before You Begin
At the start of each writing session, spend five minutes planning what you’re about to write (unless you already have a plan). This might seem like a waste of good writing time – but you’ll find it makes the writing itself much easier.
By quickly planning your scene or chapter in advance, you save a lot of “thinking” time — and you avoid dead ends where you write something that doesn’t really go anywhere. For more on this, check out Rachel Aaron’s excellent post How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day.
#5: Get Clear About the “Why” of Your Project
Why are you writing this particular thing? If it’s a novel, maybe you’re writing it because you really want to tell this specific story – or maybe you’re writing it because you’ve dreamt for years of making a living as a novelist, and you’re doing your very best to make that dream a reality. If you’re writing no-fiction, maybe your book is one that you hope will help a lot of people.
Reconnecting with why you want to write can help give you the motivation and energy to find more time for it – and to make the most of the time that you do have.
#6: Be Accountable to Someone Else
One great way to get your writing done faster is to add in an element of accountability. If someone else knows about your writing plans – you’re more likely to stick to them! You could partner up with a friend and swap your weekly word counts, you could post on Facebook or Twitter, or you could join in with something like NaNoWriMo (coming up very soon).
In January, I’ll be running a six-week group writing challenge, aimed at writers wanting the structure (and accountability!) of a group as they progress with their individual projects … so if you think you might find that helpful, keep an eye out for more details in December.
#7: When You’re Writing, Write!
This might seem like rather obvious advice … but when you’ve set aside time to write, you do need to actually use it to write! In my experience, it’s all too easy to end up “quickly checking Facebook” or “just replying to that one email” instead of getting on with the writing or editing at hand.
I use RescueTime to help me keep track of where my time is going when I’m at my computer: if you’ve not tried it, you might want to give it a go too. The free version is great, and there’s also a premium version (at quite a reasonable price – $9/month) if you want more features.
#8: Don’t Just Write as Fast as Possible
While it might be really tempting, I don’t think that writing at breakneck pace to get as many words per hour as possible is generally a good idea. Of course, if you can speed up without any drop in the quality of your writing – or your enjoyment of it – then by all means speed up! But don’t see speed alone as the ultimate measure of how well you’re getting on.
With the rise of self-publishing (and the ability to get novels from draft to publication pretty quickly), there are writers out there who put out books very frequently: I wrote about this fast writing trend in these two posts:
- Should You Write Faster? Here’s What Four Indie Authors Do (Plus My Take)
- Why Some Writers Are Much Faster Than Others: Four Quotes and Six Key Reasons.
If that type of writing works for you, go for it – but if not, don’t feel pressured by how fast anyone else writes. Go at your own speed.
#9: Set Yourself a Deadline for Each Stage of the Project
I know that deadlines you set yourself don’t ever have quite such the same power as deadlines that someone else gives you … but they can still help focus you. If you’re working on a big project, like a whole book, try setting deadlines for each part. When will you have the first draft finished, for instance?
If your deadline feels a long way off, try setting smaller deadlines – e.g. perhaps you want to complete one chapter every three weeks.
#10: Get Help if Necessary
Sometimes, slow progress can be a sign that you need help with a particular area of writing (or editing, marketing, etc). For instance, if you’re trying to self-publish a novel but you’ve spent weeks struggling to format your manuscript correctly, it’s probably time to bring in someone with more expertise – whether that’s a helpful friend or someone you can pay to do it for you.
Whatever you’re stuck on, there’ll be someone out there who’s blogged about it, written books on it, given classes on it, etc. So don’t be afraid to seek out help.
Slow progress can be frustrating … and sometimes it’s inevitable. If you’re going through a particularly hectic or draining period in life, it’s completely understandable that you’re not writing as much as you otherwise would. Please go easy on yourself!
If you’re in a reasonable position to make faster progress, though, try out some of the suggestions above to see if they help you move forward more quickly. You may well find that once you start building up some momentum, it’s much easier to keep going.
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I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
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