If you study the habits of prolific authors and journalists, you will find that the writers with the most output frequently employ certain tricks of the trade. For instance, Stephen King’s staying power on the bestseller list over several decades has been sustained by his habit of writing 10 pages a day, or about 2,000 words a day, by his estimate. Do that every day for three months and you’ve got 180,000 words, which is more than long enough for a novel. (Unless the name of the novel is The Stand). Perhaps more to the point for most writers, just a few hundred words a day is enough to produce a short article or two.
In this article I’m going to share four of the top tips that fast writers use to write more in less time. Not everyone can write 2,000 words a day, but most people will be able to double or triple their productivity by following some of the strategies suggested here.
1. Set a Designated Writing Time
The first tip is to set a designated writing time and stick to it. Make a commitment to focus on writing for a set period of time. When your writing time is over, quit and take a break.
One of the tricks here is not to burn yourself out by typing too long at one time. While a seasoned professional writer might be able to sustain unbroken hours of typing, most people (including most professionals) will get the best results by writing in short spurts of 30 to 40 minutes or less and then taking a break to refuel.
You can decide how many writing blocks per day or week you need based on your writing needs. If you only need to write two or three articles a week for a blog, you might only need a few hours a week. If you’re trying to finish a book, you might set aside more.
2. Aim for Specific Word Count Goals
When you sit down for your designated writing period, you’ll be most productive if you aim for a specific word count goal. If you type 40 words a minute (which is about average), a 30-minute or 40-minute session typing at full speed will produce 1,200 to 1,600 words. Of course few people type at full speed while composing, so you might assume half to a third of that (say 400-plus words for a half-hour session) as a more reasonable goal for most beginners.
If you track your word output from one writing session to the next, you can measure your progress. You will naturally find your speed gradually increasing. You can even challenge yourself to go faster.
3. Use Outlines and Starter Phrases to Stimulate Creativity
Another trick is to stimulate your creativity by using outlines and starter phrases and formulas. Staring at a blank page is uninspiring, and can promote writer’s block. An antidote to this is to start filling in the blanks. As soon as you put something on paper, your mind automatically starts associating words with other words. This is what makes outlines and starter phrases and formulas such powerful tools for breaking through writer’s block.
One of the easiest ways to start writing something is to start numbering a list and then filling in the blanks. How you fill in the blanks will depend on what you’re writing. Nonfiction topics can be broken down into logical sequences. Fiction stories have beginnings, middles, and ends.
A similar strategy is to start a sentence and fill in the end. This is like writing out an equation in algebra and leaving an “X” for the missing variable until you figure out the solution. The easiest type of sentence to start this way is a question. Ask yourself a series of questions about the topic you’re writing about, and your mind will automatically start filling in answers. The first answers that come to you might not be the final ones you write, but reflecting on the answers you come up with will at least kick off your thought process.
4. Master Writing Mechanics to Reduce Editing Time
A final strategy to speed up your writing process is to cut down your editing time by getting it right the first time. You can do this by mastering the mechanics of writing and style. Mastering spelling, grammar, and punctuation is part of this, but equally important for improving writing speed is practicing the rules of style until they become natural. If you practice using simple noun-verb structures and eliminating verbal clutter, you’ll spend a lot less time consulting Strunk and White and cleaning up your prose.
Of course everyone makes mistakes, and no one is perfect. But you can minimize your editing time by paying attention to your most frequent mistakes and practicing correcting those. Notice the spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style errors you make most often, and commit to correcting one at a time. Over time, your writing will gradually improve, and so will your speed and productivity.