Are you struggling to boost your writing speed?
You’re not alone. Cranking out a first draft is agony for many freelance writers. It can kill your productivity and suck the joy out of your work. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I used to hate first drafts, too. I could sweat for hours over one paragraph. Hours! My writing speed was so terrible, I even quit freelance writing for a while. Don’t do that, OK?
When I came back to freelance writing after a long break, I had a new attitude—and a new skill set. I learned how to triple my writing speed. I’m happier, I’m a better writer, and I make more money in less time.
No matter how slow, scared, and perfectionistic you are, you can light up your first-draft writing speed.
It’s not a mysterious, magical gift. It’s a skill, just like knowing where to put the commas or how to pitch an editor. And the better you get at it, the more you can earn.
Ready to fire up your first-draft writing speed? Check out these ten tips to write faster.
1. Sketch an outline
If you have a structure in mind, even a loose one, you’ll improve your writing speed. You won’t waste time wondering where your article should go next.
Does word “outline” scare you? Don’t let it. Your mean high school English teacher has left the building, and no one is going to make you use Roman numerals.
Tip: All you have to do is organize your ideas in a way that works for you. It can be as fancy as a spreadsheet or as simple as a few lines jotted on a piece of paper.
My outline for this assignment was short, and the finished post doesn’t follow it exactly. But it gave me a plan to get started and follow. More complex articles need more detailed outlines.
2. Do your research in advance
Get quotes, sources, statistics, links, and other information before you begin your draft. You might also want to research and choose SEO keyword terms.
Trying to research and write at the same time will mean you can’t focus on either task.
Tip: If doing research for an assignment is a huge time suck, check out these tips from research librarian Emily Jane-Dawson.
3. Just say ‘No’ to distractions
Choose a quiet time and place, close the door, and remember Facebook is not your friend when you’re in writing mode. There’s also a growing number of apps available to help you manage distractions.
My no-distraction mode: I silence my phone and minimize my Internet tabs before I start a draft.
4. Begin with the end in mind
I can double my first draft writing speed if I know how I want to finish. This might mean:
- Choosing a quote or piece of advice from a source to leave readers with
- Writing a summary paragraph to wrap things up, or
- Pointing out questions that have yet to be answered
Tip: The conclusion can be the most time-consuming part of an article, so give it some thought before you begin.
5. Write a messy first-draft…fast
Throw the whole draft down onto the page as fast as you can. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar, or getting every word perfect.
If you realize you need to fill something in, leave a space for it and blitz on. Don’t break your momentum.
Tip: Most freelance writers don’t need distractions like National Novel Writing Month. But if you’re going to do it anyway, the NaNoWriMo website has great resources for honing your sprint-writing skills in a fun environment. I learned a lot there.
6. Set a time limit
Don’t ignore this one. Time limits are a key element of learning how to write faster.
Set a timer for a work session. When the timer or stopwatch goes off, stop writing. Even if you’re almost done, stop writing. Take a break—get your eyes off the screen, get a bite of chocolate, walk out of the room.
Tip: Experiment to find the time limits that work best for you. The Pomodoro Technique is based on 25-minute work periods and 5-minute breaks. If you’re just starting out, try shorter time limits.
7. Reward yourself
Remember the old cartoons of greyhounds chasing mechanical rabbits? Incentives really do increase productivity and writing speed.
As soon as I finished the first draft of this guest post, I walked outside into the sunshine and checked the mailbox.
For you, a cup of coffee or a quick texting break might work wonders.
8. Learn to type faster
If you can two-finger type 100 words a minute, ignore this tip. If you can’t, consider upping your keyboarding skills.
Get to the point where you can type without thinking. Or look into dictation and speech-recognition software to increase your first draft speed.
Tip: Check out online typing apps and games to improve your writing speed.
9. Keep practicing
The more you write, the faster you’ll go. It’s easy to get bogged down thinking about how long it might take you to complete an assignment.
Don’t give up. It takes practice to improve your writing speed. If you keep going, you will get better.
Results: My speed and productivity have increased steadily the longer I’ve worked as a freelance writer.
10. Have fun
Surprised to find this tip in an article about how to write faster? I’ve left it for last because I want you to remember it.
Playfulness is one of the most important, underrated productivity hacks. When you’re working and having fun, it does’t really seem like work. Isn’t that part of what the freelance life is all about?
‘Now’ is always the best time to improve your writing speed
I’ve been writing all my life, and I still freeze at the beginning of a new draft. I froze when I started this one.
You too? Try getting over the block by spilling out the most ridiculous sentences. Be silly, relax. If you get stuck in the middle, inject more nonsense to get unstuck, and write faster.
If you want to to boost your writing speed, take your first draft seriously—but not too seriously. Let it be messy. Laugh at yourself. But above all, keep writing. And if you finish before the timer goes off, give yourself an extra reward.
What helps boost your writing speed? Share your tips in the comments below.
Maria Veres is a freelance writer based in Oklahoma City. She’s a regular contributor to Make A Living Writing. And she wrote the first draft of this guest post in exactly 25 minutes.