It is a truth universally acknowledged that writing a book constitutes a long game. There’s a reason why authors often refer to their “writing journeys.” Your writing starts in one place and ends in quite another during the process of turning a book idea into a completed manuscript, and reaching the destination often takes longer than expected.
The writing process absolutely results in the development of your craft — learning how to execute polished turns of phrases and use rhetorical devices to animate your writing, for instance. However, there’s one particular skill that most authors strive to perfect throughout their writing journey: how to write faster.
While some might argue that you can only write as fast as you can write—and no faster, it is possible to speed up the process. In fact, the following five strategies can help you write faster.
1. Create an outline.
This tip might feel like cheating because it comes before the actual writing. Rest assured that creating an outline before you sit down for a writing session will act as the wind beneath your pen. An outline will help you churn out good writing faster.
Think of it this way: if you’re driving to a destination you’ve never been to before, will you get there faster if you just decide to wing it and figure out how to get there on-the-fly or if you look up the directions beforehand and speed off with a firm idea of where you’re going? Of course, the directions will help you arrive faster.
Creating an outline before you start writing arms you with a similar and an immediate sense of purpose that lets you just write. Without the outline, you have to stop and figure out precisely what you should be writing about, which is the equivalent of asking for directions.
And the great news is that an outline doesn’t need to be a time-intensive project in itself. You can try a mind map, which is a visual way to plan out a book’s content. It starts with the main idea of your book in the center of a page. You brainstorm supporting arguments and topics, which branch out from that central thesis. You can then organize these into the structure of your book.
Or you can give “the skeleton” a whirl: an outline that acts as the spine of your book. Write down only your book’s “big” arguments first. Then, work your way through them, jotting down the points you’ll need to make in between each big argument to get from point A to point B.
Once you finish the outline, mind map or skeleton process, you’ll know what to write. That clarity helps you write faster.
2. Save the editing for later.
You may have heard a popular variation of this tip: “Write drunk, edit sober.” Saving the editing for later doesn’t just allow you to get words on the page faster, it’s an exercise in learning to tune out the voice of your inner critic.
In the world of improv, there’s a rule called, “Yes, and…” This means that, if you’re in the middle of an improvisational scene with someone and they put forth an idea, you run with it and add to it as well. You don’t stop to question whether it makes sense. You jump right in and agree to contribute to the scene.
Deciding to edit later, and to just focus on writing whatever comes to mind, is like practicing the “Yes, and…” rule. You give yourself the freedom to create without stopping to second-guess or censor yourself. Sure, this will produce many writing passages that you end up removing or reworking later. Still, it also results in many excellent ideas that would not have made their way to the page if you were writing with your perfectionist hat on.
Your writing mantra must become “Yes, and…” Not, “No, but…” That new mindset will help you write faster.
3. Find someone to hold you accountable.
This tip is very straightforward:
- Establish a writing routine and word count goals. Maybe it’s 1,000 words on Tuesdays and Sundays. Or 4 pages on Mondays and Fridays. Whatever the case, come up with a plan you can stick to.
- Tell someone about your plan. This is the most crucial step. And don’t only tell this person about it, ask him or her to check-ins after your writing sessions. For instance, if your plan is to write 2,000 words each weekend, your accountability buddy can text you on Monday and ask, “How was your writing session?”
Don’t let the simplicity of this strategy fool you! Having someone other than yourself care about your writing progress can do wonders for the speed with which you get work done. It’s one thing to feel disappointed when you miss a writing session. It’s another thing entirely to tell a friend three Mondays in a row that you didn’t meet your writing goals. Eventually, you’ll find your pen racing across the page just to let your accountability partner know, “My writing session went great! I blew right through my word count goals.”
4. Try writing sprints.
If you’re not a productive writer (and you can find out if you are or aren’t by taking this quiz here), try a writing sprint every now and then. Simply put, a writing sprint is a short but focused burst of writing time. It’s another trick that might seem overly simple, but, again, that’s the beauty of it.
If you sit down to write for an hour and don’t immediately feel inspired, that hour will likely stretch out before you into what feels like an eternity. Instead of watching the seconds tick on and feeling pressured to fill each of those seconds with productive writing, try a little reverse psychology.
Set a timer for 15 minutes and watch the time count down instead. Suddenly, faced with the fact that your writing session is going to be over shortly, you’ll likely find yourself rushing to get words on the page before the time is up.
This method is a popular one amongst the writing community. A quick search of the hashtag #writingsprint on Twitter or Instagram will reveal many writing sprint groups you can join. Someone will post the time of that day’s sprint. When the sprint ends, participants post their wordcount along with other helpful writing tips.
The length of your sprint is up to you. Fifteen minutes is a popular choice. Many writers feel that 10 minutes is just a little too short, whereas 20 minutes can feel only slightly too long to qualify as a sprint.
Try out a couple of different times, and note the sweet spot where you’re able to get a good chunk of words down on the page and feel you could keep writing just a little more. That’s the perfect place to end your sprint because you’ll come back to your next writing session able to start again on a high note.
5. Write for fun.
Becoming a “good” writer is twofold. You want the content you produce to be valuable, but you also want to be good at the actual craft of putting words to paper. Both skills require practice. It’s a bit like working out. Each time you work a specific muscle, you’re building its strength. Each time you sit down to write, you get better at the actual act of writing. That alone speeds up your writing.
However, when authors are in the midst of completing a book, they often develop tunnel vision. Devoting time to writing anything other than your work-in-progress can feel like you’re wasting time. That’s not the case!
In fact, it’s essential to give yourself breaks from your manuscript and to write without the constraints of word count goals, thinking of your target market, or referring back to your outline. Giving yourself the freedom to just write for fun once in a while allows you to be more focused when you do reengage with your manuscript. And, as we mentioned, just the act of writing will strengthen that creative muscle. With more writing muscle, you’ll write faster.
If you’re looking to switch tacks and write a little bit of fiction when you’re not focusing on your nonfiction book, writing prompts are a great inspiration-generator. Or take the workout metaphor literally and try out this list of writing exercises.
There are tons of other tips for writing faster. For instance, setting up a writing space that’s free from distraction, using voice memos, and even doing typing exercises are all good options. At the end of the day, the way to write faster is to find the environment and method that allows you to be productive and free from self-doubt.
Margaret Atwood once said, “A word after a word after a word is power.” So put one word down after another, and embrace your power!
What strategy helps you write faster? Tell me in a comment below. (And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends.)
About the Author
Emmanuel Nataf is the founder and CEO of Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. Emmanuel dedicates most of his time to building Reedsy’s product and is interested in how technology can transform cultural industries.