It’s already late Thursday evening. You wipe out your sweat and look at the computer’s clock at the top right of your desktop.
Three more hours until the submission deadline. You gave your word to email the article on time, but you’re not even halfway there.
You feel the chills down your bones thinking that you still have another three deadlines to catch up for the week. You secretly feel glad that one client canceled hiring you to write five 2000-word blog posts. Not because you don’t want the money – you desperately need that, or that you hate writing, but letting down your clients feels the worst.
You can’t have another angry email from your clients. You’ve already got one too many. The last late submission has cost you a client.
You need to write faster like your life depend on it. Actually, your life does depend on it. But no matter what you do, the words seem to crawl lazily out of the keyboard.
How to write fast? The answer is actually simple. But it might not be the one that you expected.
My Own Personal Lightning Bolt
The story above might be the typical story of any slow writers out there. I was once one of them. I didn't know how to write fast. I just didn't. Notice the use of past tense here.
Fast forward to today (pun intended), I’m still far from being the fastest writer alive. But I’m so much better. My personal record is finishing 2000-word post in less than two hours.
So, what’s the story?
It started when I landed this 600-word blog post gig. The client sent me a very detailed outline, with headers, main idea per paragraph, and supporting details for each paragraph. All that I have to do is follow the dots.
Guess what? I speed through the points and finish writing the post in under one hour. That very post would normally take me at least twice or three times as much.
To me, that writing assignment was similar to the lightning bolt that struck Barry Allen. The difference is, I don’t get the super speed right off the bat. It’s just a wake-up call that I actually can write faster given the right circumstances.
Now the question is, what is the right circumstances? How do you tap into the writer’s speed force? How to write fast?
I did my unofficial researches and experiments, and find out that the answer is in the thinking. Or to be exact, the lack of it.
To write faster, you must NOT think while writing.
How to Write Fast – What To Do?
Let's start with the root of the problem. Why do many writers write slowly? Because they think and write at the same time.
Slow writers write a few sentences, think about it for a few seconds, delete the last sentence, write them again, think, re-write, and repeat the loops throughout the process.
No wonder it takes forever.
I’m not saying that you should not put any thinking into your writing. If you want to know how to write fast, you should move the thinking part before the writing. And after.
Remove The Thinking Process
The fastest writers are meticulous planners. They plan well and know exactly what to write before even start writing.
In the simplest word: you sit and make time to craft a detailed outline beforehand.
Most successful novelist outline every scene of their novels before they open the word processor – or whatever tool they use to write. Once they start the writing engine and put their fingers into the keyboards, they don’t waste time thinking about what will happen next. They just write.
I will repeat the concept because it’s that important.
Don’t think while writing. Think before you write when you prepare the outline, and think after you write when you edit your piece.
But It’s Counter Intuitive. Or Is It?
Some might think that this process is counter-intuitive. You usually do it all in one go. Won’t you actually waste more time going through your writing several times over?
The key phrase is “all in one go”. It means you are actually switching back and forth between thinking, outlining, writing, rethinking, and editing tasks.
As proven by multiple researches, doing many things at once and juggling between the tasks will not make you work faster. The result is the opposite.
On the side note, the so-called “multitasking” has some benefit to your creativity, but only if you are doing longer and bigger projects such as working on several books at once.
Let’s go back to the topic. Doing everything all at once is actually slower than doing it in three separate processes. Do an experiment. Write two more or less similar articles (same word count, same difficulties), and use a different approach for each one. Don’t forget to track the time.
How to write fast? Forget multitasking.
Asking The Right Questions
If having an outline and eliminate the thinking process really help you write faster, you have to make sure that the outline is a good one.
And how do you prepare the best outline?
By asking the right questions.
And here are the questions that you need to ask while preparing your best outline.
The Seven Questions
1. Who is the target reader?
You need to be as specific as possible. Break it down to sub, sub-niche if you can.
For example, you want to target writers. What kind of writers are we talking about? Freelance writers. And you can go down one more level. What kind of freelance writers? Maybe those who just started their writing career.
2. Why should they care about your topic?
Find out the core problems that this audience face. Using the previous example, one of the problems of new freelance writers is they want to take more writing gigs but unable to do so because they write slowly.
Why should these writers care about your topic? Because it will solve their problems.
3. What are their pre-reading thoughts about the topic?
What separates amateur writers with the pro ones? The amateurs tell the reader what they should be thinking. And it’s wrong because most people don’t like when others dictate their thoughts.
If you want to move to the pro world, you should always try to meet the readers where they are, find out what they are thinking, and address their concerns in the beginning paragraph.
4. How do you want them to feel when they finish the post?
Before writing, start with a one-word target emotion. Put it on the top of your post as your guiding light.
In this example, “relief” would be the perfect target emotion. I want my reader to feel that they finally find a cure for their slow writing problem.
5. What advice does the audience expect you to give them?
But give them something unexpected instead.
Writing without thinking? Not many would expect advice like that. Even the famous Stephen King once said that “Writing is refined thinking”.
6. What examples can you give to illustrate your points?
Always give real life example whenever you can.
For example, …umm…
Well, you get the point.
7. How can you deliver the target emotion?
List down all the clever quotes, wise words, bits of advice, or anything that will enhance the impact of your writing so that the readers feel what you want them to feel.
Rearrange and Reconstruct the Outline
Go through the questions while preparing your outline. Format it and connect the points to make it flow.
The easiest way to rearrange and reconstruct points in your outline is to cut and paste. But you can also use a dedicated writing and outlining tools such as Scrivener.
Thinking through everything is the most time consuming part. Once you know what to say, you’ll glide through your writing.
And with experience, outlining will be your second nature. Some writer can even reconstruct the outline in their head.
Because at the end of the day, writing is not about words or language. It’s about having clear and fully formed thoughts.
Bonus Tips on How to Write Fast
Here are few other pointers on how to write fast.
1. Spend time to really, and I mean really, think about a good title.
This topic is another whole discussion by itself, and I save it for another day. But for now, know that having a good title before you write is like winning half a battle.
If preparing an outline is like drawing a map for your journey, creating the title is like deciding on the destination to go to.
2. Break down your writing time into chunks.
Use the Pomodoro technique to help you focus while not getting burnout. Basically, you set your writing process into a 25-minute writing and a 5-minute break. You do a longer break after doing several sets of these chunks.
Explaining everything about Pomodoro also deserves another full discussion. Take a rain check?
3. Consistency is the key.
Another tip on "how to write fast" is to write consistently.
Write every day without fail, at the same time, at the same place, and at (more or less) the same word count. Because, you know, practice makes perfect. First you create your habit, then your habit creates you.
4. Keep a separate note to record quick thoughts.
More often than not, brilliant ideas will pop out in your head while you are in the middle of writing. Rather than keeping them in your head, it’s better to jot it down in separate note so that you can go back to them later. Then continue the writing process.
This will free your thoughts from distractions and keep you in the flow.
5. Remove All Other Distractions
Your wandering thoughts are not the only demons you will face while writing. I mean, we are living in the age of distractions. Music, television, people all around you, games, your environment, your phone and everything that comes with it; how to write fast among all of these distractions?
If you can't remove those distractions from you, you should remove yourself from the distractions. Find a dedicated place to write, put the "do not disturb" sign, and turn off your phone.
Seriously, turn off your phone.
6. Use Grammarly. Period.
There’s no question that you MUST edit your writing to meet a certain standard. Crappy writing means nobody wants to read your piece.
Grammar is one element of your writing and it takes a lot of time to go through your writing to find and correct grammar mistakes. Grammarly will help you find these mistakes and correct them in one click. It will slash down your writing time significantly.
Granted, no tool can be replace a professional human editor, and Grammarly is no different. But even the free version is can elevate your writing several levels up from crappy to “so much better”.
The simplicity and quality put Grammarly above other similar tools. It’s basically the industry standard.
If you are not using it, install it now.
7. Create a clear deadlines.
Without a deadline, one can wonder forever and still not getting his/her writing done. This is especially true for personal writing projects.
There's this post from last year that I'm still working on. I keep revising it, trying to polish and perfect it. Nobody will yell at me for taking too long, so I use all the time in the world.
Without a clear deadline, a project could go on forever. Set your own deadlines, yell at yourself for not finishing it on time. And it helps to have a solid project/task management app like 2Do to help you create and manage your deadlines.
If you have no reason to finish a project, you won't finish it.
Don't let the perfect kills the good.
8. How to write Fast? Type faster. Duh.
There are barely any modern writer who is still use handwriting to write. So let’s assume that you are already using the combination of the computer keyboard and some version of a word processor or text editor.
It means that the top speed of your writing speed depends on how fast your fingers can dance on your computer’s keys. To improve your writing speed, you simply need to increase your typing speed.
You will also need to invest in a good and comfortable keyboard. Don’t use the one that needs brute strength just to press a key. Other than that, the key’s traveling distance plays an important role. Older keyboards have big and tall keys that travel almost one centimeter from top to bottom while the newer ones only need to travel one or two millimeters (or less) to produce a character. A keyboard with several keys missing is also out of the question.
Epilogue: The Need for Speed Writing
Once upon a time, publishing your writing meant waiting months or even years from the moment you completed your manuscript to the time it’s actually published. And it took so much longer if you start from the idea pitching stage.
This condition put writers in the position where they didn’t need to write faster unless they were on deadlines. Being a writer was generally a slow game.
But the technology and the internet change that completely. You can publish your writing as fast as you can click the “Publish” button. This is not only applied to short articles, but also to full-fledged books. Amazon and the likes make it possible for anyone to publish their (digital) book to the world in literally one click.
What does it means?
If your writing equals your income, it means the faster you can write the more money you can earn.
It’s a simple equation.
Of course, there are those who write to fulfil their emotional needs and not for monetary gain. They write only when their muse hit them with brilliant inspirations of unicorns and rainbows. If you belong to this tribe, by all means, take your time to write.
As for everyone else, keep speeding up. Earn more. Have more spare time. And may the (speed) force be with you.