Whether you’re a business owner, a blogger, or a freelance writer, understanding how to write faster without sacrificing quality will free up more of your time for other important activities.
Many aspiring and professional writers struggle with the challenge of creating enough output. It can be hard to find time to set aside for writing, even if it’s your full time job. Once you’re sitting down at your desk, there are a thousand potential distractions and other tasks that might seem more important to pull you away. And if that’s not bad enough, your old friend writer’s block could come knocking on the door at any moment.
This post will teach you to schedule your writing time properly, eradicate potential distractions, and sunder the concept of writer’s block where it sits.
People I meet are often intrigued when I tell them I used to be a freelance writer, but they’re often amazed when I tell them how much I can write on a daily basis. I used to make most of my income through freelance writing on Upwork, which demanded a high volume of output. My job was to consistently write a book or two a month, which meant I had to write at least 3000 words per workday.
That would have been extremely stressful if I hadn’t developed a system of strong habits that helped me generate content quickly regardless of external circumstances.
I’d like to share that system with you.
What You Need to Write Faster
- A computer (preferably the one you do most of your writing on)
- A word processor or text editor to type in (I use google docs)
- A stopwatch with a timer function, or a suitable app on your phone or PC
- A strong desire to increase and improve your output
- *An ergonomic keyboard (this is not necessary, but highly recommended)
How to Write Faster
The first step to increasing your output and writing faster will be determining the time of day during which you write the best. Studies have been done indicating that for many successful writers this will be first thing in the morning.
If you’re not sure when you have the strongest energy and clarity of thought, I would suggest starting by trying to write first thing in the morning. I used to be a night owl, but within a couple weeks of changing my sleep habits I realized my best writing almost always happens in the day’s youngest hours.
On the other hand, if you are a night owl and you think best when everything is dark and quiet, that’s probably the time for you to do your writing. Everyone is different, so while it’s possible that morning writing can be beneficial for many people, that doesn’t mean it has to be right for you.
Once you have figured out the time of day that suits you best, you’ll be ready to tackle the following steps.
- Schedule your writing time. If you don’t do this, it’s entirely likely that you won’t do the writing at all, and you’ll have read this post for nothing. So find a day where you can write during your most productive time, and schedule an hour or two at your desk.
- Eradicate distractions. Close all windows on your computer except the one you’re using to write, put your phone on alarms only mode, and do your best to remove anything else which might demand or pull at your attention. Over time you will get better at intentionally ignoring these types of things, but for getting started, it’s best to eliminate them entirely.
- Sunder writer’s block. I was fortunate enough to receive training in my early twenties from professional writers and journalists, and they all told me the same thing; writer’s block doesn’t exist. The feeling of writer’s block is merely a symptom of those times when the act of writing is unappealing. Even if you love writing, there will be occasions when you don’t feel like it, or when you’re uninspired, or just too exhausted to think. The following exercises will train you to destroy these barriers and create quality content quickly regardless of external circumstances.
Exercise 1: Speed Writing
I learned the fundamentals of this exercise in my professional writing course at University of Toronto Mississauga. It’s purpose is to get your mind and your hands working quickly and synergistically. There are a number of optional “levels” to this exercise, but the core principle is always the same. In this exercise, you are trying to write as quickly and consistently as possible, thus creating maximum output.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes. During that ten minutes, you must always be typing. You can write anything you want, on any topic. It can be a journal, a rant, a monologue, anything. If you can’t think of anything, then type “I can’t think of anything” until you can think of something. Write and write until the timer ends. Do not edit, rewrite, or use the backspace key for any reason.
- Record the number of words that you wrote, take a 2-5 minute break if you feel the need, and repeat step 1 twice more, for a total of 30 minutes spent writing. Record your results, and recognize how much you are actually able to write when you focus purely on speed.
- To make this exercise even more effective, try turning your monitor off or hanging a piece of paper over the screen. By not being able to see the words as you type them, you will separate yourself from any need to correct mistakes or make small improvements.
- After doing your initial set of three 10 minute repetitions, try to do this exercise once every day. If you have something else to write, Speed Writing makes an excellent warmup.
Exercise 2: Timed Prompts
This is an extremely common exercise which I first learned in secondary school, but it is also extremely valuable. While Timed Prompts are often viewed as a social game, they can be a vital tool for improving your ability to quickly generate ideas on any topic.
- Pick a topic or find a writing prompt online (just google the term, there are millions out there) and set a timer for ten minutes. During that ten minutes you must always be typing, but this time you need to stay on topic. The words don’t have to be good or strategic or persuasive, they just have to follow the prompt. As in exercise 1, try to avoid making corrections or using the backspace key; keep your momentum going forwards at all times until the timer ends.
- Record the number of words that you wrote, take a 2-5 minute break if needed, and then repeat step 1 twice more, for a total of 30 minutes spent writing. Record your results, and recognize the difference between writing anything you want and following a specific prompt.
- To make this exercise even more effective, find or create prompts that are specific to your writing niche. If you intend to write fiction, use an appropriate prompt in your genre. If you are a content writer, write on a subject which might come up in your work. If you’re not sure what your niche is, try choosing something that you find interesting but challenging.
- After doing your initial set of three 10 minute repetitions, try to do this exercise at least once every other day, or if you prefer, use it as your daily practice in place of Speed Writing. Use a variety of different, challenging prompts to keep yourself on your toes and challenge your brain. If you have trouble with this, ask a friend or colleague to choose a prompt for you.
Exercise 3: Fastest Thousand Words
This is an exercise which I created myself in order to gamify my work in some small way. It was much more effective than I could have predicted it would be, and it is the tool I always fall back on when my output starts to slow down. This is the exercise which will really get you writing 3000+ words per day, and enable you to do it in less than three hours.
- Decide what you are going to write, and do any research related to it so that you can focus on the actual writing as much as possible. Decide how many words you will write in one sitting. For beginner and novice writers, I recommend starting with 500 words. For more advanced or very fast writers, try 1000. Start your stopwatch, and start typing. During this time, try to always be writing. If you need to stop to reference your notes or think about something that’s okay, but keep in mind that you are on the clock. When you think you have reached your goal run a quick word count, and if you hit it, stop the time.
- Record how long it took you to complete your set of 500 or 1000 words. Take a 5-10 minute break, stretch, get water, use the washroom etc. Then go back and repeat step 1 until you have completed your writing for the day.
- You should be taking a break every 40-60 minutes. This will maximize your ability to focus. Eventually you will get to the point where you can regularly write 1000 words in 30-60 minutes. Do that three times in a row, and you’ve written your 3000+ words!
- Always record your results. Once you establish a speed that you are happy with (personally I aim for 1000 words every 30-40 minutes) you can stop timing yourself. Just make sure you still take breaks at the appropriate times. If you find that you are beginning to write slower again, revisit this exercise and the previous two if necessary.
Notes on Research and Flow State
As I mentioned in exercise three, to whatever extent possible all research should be compiled before you start writing. If you have to take even a two minute break from writing to look something up, there’s a very good chance it will interrupt your flow.
It should also be noted that the overall purpose of these three exercises has been to get you writing in a flow state. Also known as being “in the zone” (especially among athletes), a state of flow is one of serene focus in which the human mind is much more capable of timely quality output. Other techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can be utilized in order to more easily access a flow state.
For now though, scheduling your writing time, eradicating distractions, and using the exercises outlined above should be enough to get you writing faster and more effectively than ever before. You may find yourself worrying about things like “am I keeping up my regular quality of writing when I go this fast?” The answer is yes, you probably are. If you are a strong writer, your work will be good by virtue of being your work. If you’re really concerned about this, just do an extra editing pass. You will probably be impressed with the quality of your writing, and entertained by some of the ridiculous typos you will undoubtedly find.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for being you.