How to Write Faster: Twelve Tips to Get More Words Down
Whether you’re a freelancer, a novelist, a student, or even someone writing as part of a day job, then chances are, you want to write faster.
Some writers are naturally faster than others – and some genres and types of writing are inevitably going to be faster to produce than others – there are plenty of things that can speed you up.
Some writers worry that writing faster will mean producing lower-quality work. But in many cases writing faster means writing better.
Writing fast is about improving your focus – so you’re concentrating on the task at hand – and improving your process – so you’re creating a well-structured piece that you edit after drafting.
Here’s how to dramatically increase your writing speed. You can use these links to jump straight to the tips that you want to try first:
#1: Turn Off Your Internet Connection
If you only do one thing on this list, make it this one. Turning off your internet connection takes seconds. Switch off the wifi on your computer (or physically unplug your ethernet cable). You might want to switch your phone to airplane mode, too, or mute apps that might beep and distract you – for me, that’s WhatsApp.
Even if you don’t think you’re usually distracted by the internet, you might find you’re suddenly a lot faster with it turned off. When it’s simply not an option to quickly check the news headlines, send a tweet, or catch up on Facebook, it’s a lot easier to stay focused on writing.
Worried about looking up facts as you write? Don’t. As we’ll come onto in tip 7, it’s better to simply leave a placeholder for these and add them later.
Tip: Do you write in Google Docs? I do too – and this tip still works! You can use Google Docs in offline mode.
#2: Write Regularly (You Don’t Have to Write Every Day)
An awful lot of lists of writing tips will tell you to write every day, to build a strong writing habit (and to get faster).
There’s nothing wrong with writing every day. If it works for you, do it! But for me (and plenty of the writers I know), writing every day isn’t a great fit. You might find that you’re much faster when you set aside 90 minutes twice a week, instead of 30 minutes a day.
What matters is that you write regularly. I’d recommend at least once a week, though you’ll probably find that twice a week makes for better momentum. It’s easier to get into the flow of what you’re writing when you work on it regularly: if you let weeks go by, you’ll find that you end up writing slowly as you get back into the piece.
Tip: Struggling to find writing time on a regular basis? Check out Supercharge Your Writing Week for plenty of help creating (and sticking to) your writing schedule.
#3: Break the Writing Process Into Steps
The writing process doesn’t begin when you sit down and start typing into a document. It starts a couple of stages before that.
Whatever you’re working on, you’ll go through a process something like this:
- Prewriting (ideas and research)
- Copy editing
Sometimes, writers try to jump straight into drafting without spending enough time in the early stage of prewriting. They might write quickly for the first few paragraphs – but then they may run out of ideas.
Other writers spend ages copy editing while writing – which doesn’t really work well as the rewriting stage means a lot of their work might get cut or significantly changed anyway.
Tip: If you’re working on lots of short pieces, like blog posts, you can “batch” these different stages. For instance, you could come up with 10 ideas all at once, then write 5 outlines at once.
#4: Create an Outline
I find that the more I outline in advance, the faster I write. With an outline, you’re clear about what you’ve already covered – and about where you’re going next. You don’t need to pause in your writing to worry about whether you’ve gone off on a tangent.
Some fiction writers dislike outlining – and I do have a lot of sympathies here! I’m much more of a “pantser” than a plotter when it comes to fiction. Instead of trying to outline the whole story upfront, I tend to focus on key plot points. I find it speeds me up a lot to outline individual scenes before I start writing them, though.
If you’re writing a freelance piece or a post for your blog, outlining is almost certain to make it go more smoothly.
Tip: Your outline doesn’t need to be complicated. A series of bullet points is often enough. For this post, my outline was just a list of the 12 key points.
#5: Use a Timer for Writing Sprints
One great way to speed up (and to focus better) is to use a timer when you write. Set it for 10 – 30 minutes and write until the timer goes off. You might be surprised just how much you can get done.
If you’re reluctant to turn off your internet connection or silence your phone while you write, using a timer can help: once the time is up, you can check emails / messages / etc. Chances are, the people in your life can wait at least 10 minutes for you to get back to them.
Tip: If you’re staying online, you can type “set a timer for 10 minutes” (or however long you want) into Google to set a timer. If you want to work offline or just prefer not to switch apps or tabs, I find my Amazon Echo Show is very handy for timers.
#6: Don’t Edit (Much) While You’re Writing
Another piece of writing advice that I’m sure you’ve come across time and time again is to avoid editing while you’re writing.
Personally, I think it’s fine to occasionally restart a sentence, fix a typo, or change your mind about a word when you’re writing. If it’s more distracting to leave mistakes in, then by all means go back and fix them.
But in general, focus on making forward progress. If a sentence doesn’t come out quite right, or if you haven’t got the perfect word, flag it up in a comment or highlight it for later attention … and keep moving.
Tip: If you’re struggling to avoid editing while writing, you could even turn off your monitor or change the text to white on white so that you can’t actually see it as you type.
#7: Research Later (Leave a Note-to-Self)
When you’re writing, there’ll often be a point where you want to check a fact. Maybe you need the name of a specific town for your novel or you want a statistic to include in your blog post.
In general, don’t stop and immediately look it up: you’ll break your momentum and you may well find yourself distracted by other research (or simply by other interesting things on the internet).
Instead, leave a “note-to-self” in the text. You could put in a comment, use [square brackets] or use the journalistic mark “TK” which means “to come”. (So chosen because the letters “tk” rarely appear in that order in English words, making them easy to locate using the Find feature.)
Tip: If you need the information to progress with your piece, of course it’s fine to look it up. Try setting a timer for 5 minutes (or however long you think it’ll take to find the information) so you’re reminded to get back on track after locating it.
#8: Try Typing Software to Improve Your Typing Speed
I can happily touch-type without looking at the keyboard, so my writing speed is affected by my thinking speed rather than my typing speed! But if you feel that you’re typing too slowly, you can deliberately practice your typing using typing software.
There are a good number of free options out there, including lots of typing games. You can find a useful list of the best typing software here (which includes paid options).
Tip: Make sure your keyboard is working for you, too. You might want to switch to an ergonomic keyboard if you do a lot of typing, for instance. If you’re struggling to type fast using an on-screen phone or tablet keyboard, check out my article on How I Write on My Phone … Without Typing on a Fiddly Touchscreen.
#9: Or … Dictate Your Writing
I’ve never quite got the hang of dictation, but many very prolific writers swear by it. You can talk much faster than you can type, so you might be able to dictate 3,000 – 4,000 words in an hour.
Of course, you’ll still need time to clarify your thoughts and think how best to express them. This means that you’ll probably see the best time gains for dictation if you’re writing about a very familiar topic, or if you’ve already got a detailed outline.
Writers have used dictation for centuries: probably the most famous example is John Milton, who dictated Paradise Lost as he was blind by that point in his life.
Tip: You don’t have to pay for expensive dictation software, especially when you’re just trying out dictation. Google Docs has a free “type with your voice” feature, though you’ll need to use the (also free) Chrome browser.
#10: Use a Text Expander
A lot of writers aren’t familiar with text expanders – and they’re incredibly useful tools! A text expander is a piece of software that monitors what you type. You can set up a keyword using letters (and/or numbers and symbols); when you type that keyword, the text expander will automatically replace it with your preset text.
For instance, if I frequently wanted to type “Aliventures: Making the Most of Your Writing Time” then I might set that up as the keyword avtagline in my text expander. I’d just need to type avtagline and the software would automatically convert that into the full phrase.
Text expanders can save you time on editing, too. They’re great for correcting misspellings or punctuation errors. For instance, if you write about WordPress and find yourself frequently typing “Wordpress” instead of “WordPress”, you can set up WordPress as your keyword and automatically change it to “WordPress”.
Tip: There are a range of text expanders on the market, all with similar features – though some offer extras, like built-in spelling correction. I use BeefText, which is completely free (though Windows-only).
#11: Write in a Distraction-Free Environment
Some writers find it distracting to have toolbars, extra tabs, or other software visible on the screen while writing. These can be visually intrusive when you just want to focus on the text itself – and they can nudge you into fiddling with formatting, text styles, and so on, breaking your focus on your writing.
If you want to focus better and write faster, you might find it helps to use a distraction-free writing environment. This usually means expanding your document so that it takes up your whole screen. In Google Docs, you can do that by (a) Pressing F11 to make your browser window full-screen (hiding other tabs) then (b) going to View – Full Screen in Google Docs. To see the toolbar again, just hit the Escape key.
Tip: If you write in Scrivener, you can tweak the Composition Mode settings to make it a distraction-free environment. I like to have an opaque black background and a white page to type on: there’s a tutorial here that shows you how to do that.
#12: Know the Quality You’re Aiming For
I’m a little hesitant to include this point, but it’s an important one for anyone who writes for a living. Don’t spend ages perfecting a piece of writing that doesn’t actually need to be that good.
I’m not suggesting that you write inaccurate articles or that you don’t care about plot holes in your novel. But if you’re being paid for a certain level of quality, don’t feel that you need to go beyond that.
For instance, in my freelancing, I have one client who pays 12 cents per word for long ghostwritten blog posts for large websites. They get my best writing!
Another client pays 6 cents per word for short ghostwritten guest posts for their clients’ SEO campaigns. They get my competent writing: very straightforward content that doesn’t go into much depth. My 12 cent per word level of writing would be overkill (and would quickly lead to me burning out).
Tip: Not everything you write needs to be your very best. Sometimes, “competent” is perfectly good enough. (Of course, you’ll still want to do enough editing to avoid bad writing.)
Writing faster lets you progress more quickly in your writing career, bill more money per hour, or simply feel satisfied that you’ve made the most of your writing time.
Today, pick two or three things from this list to try. Even if they only speed you up by 10%, that’s a lot of time saved (or a lot of extra words) over the course of the next month.
Going Further: If you want to get even more from your writing time, check out my Supercharge Your Writing packs. Each of these comes with a detailed guide plus printables to help you get more writing done (and enjoy it more too).
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.
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