Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
Plenty of productivity gurus can teach you how to write faster. By writing faster, I don’t mean increasing your typing speed. Rather, how can you produce content more efficiently and at a quicker rate?
On one end of the spectrum are writers who swear by short, bite-sized writing sessions — say, 15- 30-minute increments. Bursts, they say, allow for concentration. Other writers need longer binge periods in which to write. The muse doesn’t hit, they say, until they’re well into their second or third hour.
Yet writers in both camps say that they’d like to know how to write faster and more efficiently. “I usually write for far longer than an hour,” says Paula, a binge writer and member of my writing group. “But that practice is hit or miss. I tend to get bogged down with research.”
Brent, too, wants to know how to write faster — but for a different reason. “I work two part-time jobs,” he says. “I can write only in spurts. How can I maximize what I get done during the time I have to write?”
Binges and bursts: must you choose one method over the other in order to write faster? I say no. An all-or-nothing attitude supposes that either binging or bursting is superior for writing more efficiently. Yet if you become proficient in both skills, then you can binge or burst as your schedule allows. Do that, and you’ll streamline your writing time, write faster, and produce more content.
But first, you need to understand what slows you down when you write. You need two things in order to produce quality work, says Georgetown University professor and self-improvement authority Cal Newport, author of Deep Work (2016). A writer needs time, as in actual minutes, to put words onto the page. You also need concentration to write ideas that make sense.
The need for minutes you can understand. Writing is an activity, so you carve out time in your days to write. Concentration you get, too, because of today’s information over-saturation. To write more and write faster, you eliminate distractions and sloppy work habits.
But there’s another, more subtle culprit that chokes your concentration and prevents a productive writing output: the lack of a writing goal for your project. You’ll recognize this temptation when you start writing before you have a clear theme for a piece — or even a pool of content. Aimlessness leads you down plenty of rabbit trails.
Focused writers have a clear objective in their sights. Once they put their fingers on the keyboard, they’re off to the races. If that’s not you, then you may need to binge.
Your work will go smoother and faster, says University of Connecticut professor James C. Kaufman, Ph.D., co-author of The Psychology of Creative Writing (2009), if you know whether you’re in “creating” mode or “assessment” mode. Research and concepting are part of the writing process. Yet they are “assessment” tasks, best suited for a session when you can wander through information and process it.
Being in the wrong mode — that was my friend Paula’s problem. In her mind, she sat down to write. In reality, she was in assessment mode. She hadn’t drilled down her topic to a specific slant.
Instead, she got hung up on the flood of information available about raising multiples … the range of presentations on the autism spectrum … parenting a special needs child. Gathering that information was essential for her project. Yet Paula became frustrated because she didn’t make progress on her post and thought she couldn’t “write fast.” The truth is she needed time to “binge” and gather information. Then, once she established a clear writing objective (“I’m going to write a post about parenting twins with Asperger’s Syndrome”), she completed the project quickly.
Binge writing is an extended amount of time at the keyboard, as in an hour or more. A block of time allows you to sort and whittle down your ideas to create a clear writing project goal. The process, called “concepting,” is similar to steps a sculptor takes at the beginning of a project. He studies a piece of marble. The sculptor conceives a vision of what the end result will look like before he picks up the chisel. Then in his mind’s eye, he sees what to chip away in order to create a quality piece.
Likewise, a binge session purposefully focuses on sifting through ideas and information to identify a project’s writing goal. After binging, you’ll know “I want to write a series of articles on RVing while homeschooling” or “I’ve got the background I need to write about positive youth development principles in this grant application.” You’ve chipped away enough marble to have a vision of your project’s purpose.
With a clear writing objective in place, you can move into “creating” mode. Determine what needs to happen for you to write the project. Record the steps, such as:
Then address those steps, or “chunks,” one by one. A “chunk” — a burst — is a manageable piece. You can chunk one task on your list by writing for a short spurt to complete it. Or you can schedule your writing time into short, manageable bursts, specific in their length of time, using the burst to get as far as you can with a single writing task. The now-famous Pomodoro Technique, for instance, espouses 25 minutes of pure work followed by a 5-minute break.
A burst can be as long or short as you like. You can schedule bursts according to your available time, like my friend Brent, who had two part-time jobs. Or you can experiment with bursts to find out how long you can concentrate in a short sitting.
Another option: break up your project into a word count. The average eBook, for example, is 12,000 words. If you write in bursts of 350 words a day, you’ll finish your draft in 34.3 days. That’s less than seven weeks, writing just five days a week.
Either way — completing short tasks in a single sitting or working at a single writing task for a set, short burst of writing time — you will write faster. You’ll be more in charge of your writing time, rather than feeling at the mercy of the muse. And you’ll get more done.
Binge sessions need not be strictly relegated to “assessment- only” tasks. Nor must all actual writing be confined to bursts. You can use a burst of time to do some research or organize ideas you’ve already gathered. And you can string together several burst sessions to a longer writing binge to put together your first draft.
Rather, the key to writing faster is to find your unique, efficient rhythm between the two kinds of writing tasks: assessing and creating. What can you get completed in today’s burst or this weekend’s binge? When you know whether you’re in “creating” mode or “assessment” mode, you can switch your writing gears accordingly. And you’ll know how to write faster and get more done.
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