Some writers have the gift of “speedwriting.” They are naturally blessed with the ability to write fast and turn out solid work without agonizing or extensive rewriting or editing.
Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people.
It’s not that I’m slow. I can move through projects at a good pace when I have to. But I simply can’t dash off copy with lightning speed and walk away as some do. Like this sentence, for example: I just now wrote and deleted three or four other sentences before typing these words.
Obviously it’s better to be a good writer than a fast writer. However, I think that just as you can learn to read quickly and maintain comprehension, you should also be able to write quickly and maintain quality. So I’ve been on a mission recently to boost my writing speed. This can help me be more productive, earn more, and have more time for other activities.
I’ve analyzed my writing habits and come up with solutions to boost my productivity. Here are a few of my ideas.
Narrow your topic. You can’t write about five things at once. And you can’t include every idea that pops into your head. Smart people usually have a lot of facts and observations on the tip of their brain, so staying focused can be hard. But it’s essential to stick to one point if you want to zip through a writing project.
Gather your facts. Knowing what you want to say will instantly eliminate writer’s block. So if you know your subject, jot down a few notes before you start writing. If you don’t know your subject or need additional information, do your research.
Start an idea file. This is a HUGE time-saver. I keep a simple text file on my computer desktop and jot down ideas as I get them. I also use Google Notebook to record notes from online reading. I don’t tear out magazine bits anymore because that creates clutter that I have to reread later.
Put your thoughts in order. Don’t think “outline.” Just take all your facts or ideas and arrange them in the order you want them to appear in your finished piece. I did this earlier today for an op-ed for DM News, and it helped me stay on track and cut my writing time significantly.
Eliminate distractions. I tend to save certain writing chores for the evening so I can sit on my comfy sofa in the media room with my laptop. But flipping through news channels eats up the time and fills my mind with information that doesn’t advance the item I’m writing. So, turn off the TV, mute the phone, and close your e-mail program. I doubt you’ll miss much.
Start writing and don’t stop. This is the biggie. You can’t agonize over every word or sit and stare at the computer screen. Put your fingers on the keyboard and GO. It doesn’t have to be perfect writing. Just get the words down. You might be surprised at how much you can get done and how good it is if you take off the brakes and let ‘er rip.
Don’t read what you’re writing. Ouch. This is a toughie for me. When I get stumped, I often go back and read what I’ve written to create momentum that can carry me through the part I’m stuck on. But really, that’s a bad idea for a first draft. You can read what you’ve written after you’ve written it all the way through.
Don’t edit or rewrite. I’m laughing as I write this because I wrote two or three other versions of “Don’t edit or rewrite” just now. This one I have to work on. To increase your writing speed, take off the editor hat and just plow through until you’re finished. You can edit and revise later. Write then edit is faster than write and edit.
Finish what you’re writing. If you start it, finish it. That’s good advice for any project but especially good advice for writing faster. Don’t think about it, just do it. Once it’s all down, it will feel finished even if it’s not. Then you just have to edit.
Break big projects into little pieces. Writing a page or a section is easier if you can focus on just that page or section and aren’t worried about all the other bits you have to write. Take it one step at a time.
When you’re done, walk away. Once all the words are down and in order, save your document and do something else. When I’m finished with this, I’m going to relax and watch a rerun of the Sopranos and forget all about this article.
Edit with a fresh eye. Objectivity always makes you a better editor. You’ll catch the mistakes. You’ll spot the extraneous details. You’ll cut the fat.
Okay. I’m done. Now I’m going to save this and … aw nuts. I just reread the article. Apparently, it’s easier to give this advice than to follow it.
What do you think? Do you have any good ideas for speedwriting?
PS: It’s now a couple days later and I’m reviewing this article before I post it. And you know what? It reads pretty well, probably better than if I’d agonized over it. Not many errors and the pace is good. Hey, these ideas are working.