The schedule gods have given you a break, and you have a rare hour to actually sit down and write. You could produce an entire blog post! An article! Maybe even a short book chapter! Your research is all done, so all you need to do now is write.
You apply ass to seat, fire up your laptop, start typing …
… and it’s like watching a video in slo-mo.
Once the hour is up, you do a word count — and let’s just say the final tally is less than impressive.
It’s time to pull you out of that rut. Here are ten ways to produce great writing in volume. Using these tactics, I can write a full 1,000-word article in under an hour; I bet they’ll speed up your output as well.
#1. Write Under Pressure (from Your Bladder)
When I’m on fire (or on a deadline) and don’t want to stop writing, I skip bathroom breaks until I’m done. Nothing speeds up your writing like knowing you’re on the verge of having a potty accident.
Being a 48-year-old woman, I have to pee every 30 minutes, so you can bet I’m writing scorchingly fast to make it to the next bathroom break; but if this isn’t the case for you, try quaffing a couple glasses of water before sitting down at your laptop.
Caveat: I am not a doctor and this probably isn’t the healthiest thing to do. In fact, I’ve heard of bladder infections being called “secretary’s disease” because they used to happen frequently to secretaries who held it in while they finished “just one more task.” Use this tactic at your own risk!
#2. Outwit Writer’s Block with This Old Journalist’s Trick
Instead of insisting that your facts and examples be all lined up before you put pen to paper, which leads to over-researching, try writing from your head. Get down what you know, and what you remember from your interviews — and drop in the term “TK” wherever you get stuck and need more information.
TK is journo-speak for “to come,” and it’s used as a placeholder for copy you’ll add later. The beauty of TK is that this combo of letters very rarely occurs in the English language — so once you’re done with your draft, you can do a search on the term in your word processing program and fill in the holes.
You’ll be surprised at how much you already had in your head, and at how much faster you can produce a piece of writing this way!
#3. Use Automation to Skip Two Million Keystrokes
Rewriting the same copy over and over, or playing the cut-and-paste game several times an hour, is a massive time suck. In the two minutes it takes you to type in your bio at the end of a guest post, you could have written the lede paragraph of a new post.
I use an app called TextExpander — which expands custom keyboard shortcuts into frequently used text — for common copy like my email sign-off, bio, mailing address, book titles, HTML codes, and words and phrases I use often in my writing. You can even use TextExpander abbreviations to insert images, the current date, and more. (Similar apps include TypeIt4Me for Mac and Breevy for Windows.)
As an example, when I type in “rren,” this pops up: The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success. That’s four keystrokes instead of 80!
TextExpander’s stats say I’ve saved myself from typing over two million characters, and have saved over 142 hours. Yes, that’s six solid days I’ve rescued from the abyss of needless typing.
One trick I learned years ago is to be sure the abbreviations you choose are letter combinations you won’t be using for anything else. For example, if you choose the word “address” to expand out into your street address, that will also happen when you write, “This blog post will address common time-wasters.”
Try repeating a letter at the front of the word instead. I use the combo “bbio” for my bio and “uurl” for my website URL.
Imagine how much speedier your writing will be if you can simply type fewer words!
#4. Turn Off the Squiggly Red Lines
You’re all in the zone, writing like your life depends on it — or like you have to pee really bad; see tip #1 — and suddenly you’re stopped in your tracks by a squiggly red line under a word. You pause to check it, and realize the program doesn’t recognize the name of that city in Germany you’re writing about.
So you right-click on “Nuremberg,” select “Add to Dictionary,” and …
… where were you again?
Your word processing program’s spelling and grammar checkers are just okay at checking spelling and grammar, but they are phenomenal at yanking you right out of your flow. I actually don’t mind the spell checker, but when I have the grammar checker on I find myself stopping every few minutes to yell, “Shut up, I meant to write it that way!”
Guess what? You have the power to switch off the checkers so you’re able to write without distraction. You can always run them after you’ve finished your writing if you need to.
#5. Invest in a Faster Pen
Like to write first drafts or take notes by hand? The Hack My Study site did a comparison on which pens are the fastest to write with.
Here’s a spoiler: Fountain pens are best for pure speed, but they’re also pricey and difficult to master. The next best option is a rollerball pen. These are less expensive, but they’re still fast because they create little friction on the writing surface.
The third best for speed is the gel pen, which is less expensive than the rollerball, and coming in dead last is the standard ballpoint pen — you know, the kind you pick up for free at your local bank or dentist’s office.
I can attest to the speed of the rollerball; a few years ago I decided to toss out every junky pen in the house and replace them with a few dozen of my favorite brand, the Pilot Precise V7 Rolling Ball Fine — blue for me, black for my husband, and red just because. That way, whenever I’m in the mood to write a draft or take notes by hand, I can reach into a kitchen drawer or my purse and be assured of pulling out a fast, smooth-writing pen every time.
Stocking up on quality pens is an investment (it costs around $20 for a 12-pack of the Pilot pen I use), but it’s worth it if it helps you write faster. Not to mention you’ll never again waste precious writing seconds furiously scribbling on a sheet of scrap paper to get the ink flowing in your cheap ballpoint.
#6. Do B-Minus Work
One of the chief habits that keeps you stuck in slow motion is editing yourself while writing. There’s nothing like agonizing over the perfect word in the middle of writing a blog post or article to keep you in perpetual “not quite finished” mode. (That habit, of course, is a consequence of perfectionism, another common bugaboo for writers.)
Value done over perfect and let the words fly. Give yourself permission to do B-minus work just to get the ideas down on paper, then go back and edit when you’re done. Chances are, you’ll discover your writing was pretty good to begin with!
The more you resist editing yourself as you write, the easier writing will become. The easier writing becomes, the more confident you’ll be. And the more confident you are in your writing, the quicker the process gets.
#7. Get Zen Before You Pick Up Your Pen
If your writing slows to a virtual crawl because you feel the need to check Facebook or answer an email after every sentence, you’ll love OmmWriter, a program that blocks out the files and applications behind the writing page to minimize distractions.
OmmWriter also offers a selection of calming background colors and music to keep you in Zen mode as you write, plus soothing sounds with each keystroke. I especially love the horizontal cursor (instead of the usual vertical blinking one) that seems to say “Write on” instead of “Stop writing!”
Ommwriter was free when I downloaded it several years ago, but is now a pay-what-you-want app; the average offering is $7.33.
#8. Stop Letting the Schedule Push You Around
Sometimes a little space is all you need to get perspective on a piece of writing that’s giving you fits, so you can get the words out faster.
An example: Last week I had scheduled myself to write an article for my website called “How Writers Waste Time by Saving Time,” about the dangers of cutting corners in your research and interviews. I eked out about 500 (crappy) words at a glacially slow pace before giving up; the article sounded more like a rant than a solid service piece, and I just couldn’t figure out how to fix it.
Then I looked over my ideas for future articles, and one called “Let Future You Handle Your Writing Problems” jumped out at me. I was inspired! I opened a new Word file, and that article — all 900 words — poured out of me in less than 60 minutes.
This week, I revisited the article I had been stuck on, and immediately saw exactly what the problem was and how to resolve it. An hour later, that article was done too.
If you have control over what you write and when you write it, this tip is for you: Stop being a slave to your editorial calendar. When you’re wrestling with a scheduled article or post, let it go. Scan over your editorial calendar and see if there are any post ideas that get you all fired up, and make the switch. You’ll find that the writing flows much faster that way.
#9. Play Games to Boost Your Words Per Minute
A big problem for many freelance writers is that we think faster than we type. If your brain is churning out amazing ideas and perfect turns of phrase at a blazing pace, but you type slower than my husband trying to help me come up with a funny metaphor for something slow — you’ll finish out your allotted writing time with a only fraction of your page filled with, you know, writing.
Learning to type is a lot more fun than it used to be, with many sites offering free games, lessons, and tests to help you up your keyboarding speed. FreeTypingGame.Net has, among other goodies, a game called The Frogs Are Off Their Diet. A similar site, WordGames.com, offers hilariously titled typing challenges like Zombie Typocalypse and Type Type Revolution.
If you often find yourself writing on the go, seek out free apps that will help you learn to type faster on your smartphone or tablet. TapTyping is one example for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, and Typing Master is an app that works on Android devices.
#10. Gamble with Your Reputation
Feeling competitive? Challenge yourself to write your blog post, article, or book chapter in a (much) shorter amount of time than you normally would.
I did this once while working with a friend at a café and her jaw dropped open as she watched me complete an 800-word article in 30 minutes. (And yes, it was good!)
Even better, bet a friend something juicy that you can do it, or throw down the gauntlet on social media. The more people who see it and the harsher the consequences should you lose, the more likely you are to get those words down on the double.
On the low-pressure end, I also like to do mini challenges: I’ll see how much I can write in the five minutes while my tea steeps … in the two minutes before the microwave dings and my lunch is ready … while I’m on hold with AT&T before someone picks up. It’s incredible how quickly you can write when you have mere minutes to get it done.
Be More Prolific than You Ever Thought Possible
Fab news! It took me years to develop and learn these effective tactics for writing like a bat out of hell, but you can try them all on right now.
Feel free to combine tactics: Turn off the grammar checker, down a couple glasses of water, fire up Ommwriter, and use a text expander app to produce B-minus work.
Chances are you’ll boost your speed many times over, so you can do even more of what you love (hint: writing) every day.
Ready for the writing to simply pour from you? Set your timer and get started!