I’ll admit, I’m not the fastest writer out there.
I get distracted.
I fall down too many research-related rabbit holes, and I keep thinking about more — more angles, new approaches, additional supporting quotes and links.
So when Heather Robson asked me to write an article about speeding up the writing process, I decided to use it as an exercise and a case study to see what I could do with it.
If you want to measure the time you’re taking, you’ll need to find a consistent way to track your time, like the tool that Mindy McHorse shares here.
Naturally, the time it takes you to write an e-book will be different than the time it will take to write a case study. And that will be different than the time it takes to write a blog post or an article. Your level of familiarity with the topic will also affect the time it takes you to write.
But no matter what kind of writing you’re doing — and no matter what topic you’re writing about — I learned some things I share here that can help you write faster … without compromising your quality.
I started by researching the topic. That’s where I usually start. I collected links, useful quotes, and ideas into an online notebook. But for this article, I did something different. I put a cap on my research. When I had what I thought was enough information to move forward, I stopped. Usually, I keep nosing around for “just one more” reference. Whenever I do that, I find that a measurable block of time — 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or an hour — whizzes by without me even realizing it.
So, here’s what I learned …
To write faster while still doing great work, break down your writing process into three major segments:
- Editing and polishing
For speediest results, keep these steps separate. In fact, Kevan Lee, a writer who produces at least three 1,500-word posts every week for Buffer, along with other content, recommends doing these steps on separate days.
Every day, he blocks out time for research, writing, and editing on separate articles or blog posts.
Systematize Your Research
Research includes more than looking up facts about your subject. Depending on your topic, it can include interviewing people, reviewing videos or podcasts, or even conducting a survey.
Kevan Lee recommends adding the words “and research” to whatever online searches you’re doing to get information about your topic. This will give your results more depth.
What’s important is that you keep your research organized and all in one place. When I started my career, that meant time in the library and a stack of 3×5 index cards. Fortunately, those days are long gone!
Some writers love Scrivener because it makes it easy to keep your research together with your writing. Others swear by Evernote, or OneNote. Find a method for collecting research that works for you, and stick to it.
Allow Yourself to Write and Nothing Else
When you sit down to write, shut down the distractions. Turn off notifications for email, Facebook, and other social media. Writing time is for writing.
If you find yourself procrastinating or allowing distractions, that might indicate you don’t feel prepared. Do you need to go back to the research stage?
Or maybe you just need to plunge in and work past your fears.
Once you start writing, don’t do anything else. Don’t go online to check this fact, or look up that idea. If you need to check something, make a note and keep writing. At this point, you don’t want to allow anything to interrupt your flow.
While you’re writing, turn off your internal editor as well. Don’t worry about that typo, or whether the structure of that sentence is perfect. Ignore those flaws until the editing and polishing stage.
When you’re in the writing stage, just write.
In addition to the advice to stay focused, you can do a few more things to make the writing process go smoothly.
Most experts recommend that you start with an outline. If you don’t like the idea of outlining, then think about it differently. Write down the headings and subheadings for your article or blog. Boom! There’s your outline.
If your content is complex, you may just have to bite the bullet and do a “real” outline. It should include a list of the major points you want to cover, in logical order.
For a blog post, Darren Rowse of ProBlogger recommends that you start with a list or outline, then flesh out each point with a couple of paragraphs.
Even though you’re trying to compact the time you spend producing content, don’t take shortcuts on the headline. If people don’t read past the headline, you’ve wasted all your time.
Jon Morrow of Boost Blog Traffic used to write at least 100 headlines for each post. And he’s come up with some incredible headlines … like How to Quit your Job, Move to Paradise, and Change the World.
I’m not a good headline writer, but fortunately I’ve found a tool that makes the process more interesting and even fun. And of course, you can learn how to write better headlines here on Wealthy Web Writer, and on Copyblogger.
Just as we strive to write great headlines that attract attention and encourage readers to keep reading, the introduction is vitally important. If you find yourself spending a lot of time crafting that all-important introductory paragraph, skip it for now.
Jump right into the meat of your article or blog instead.
Once you’ve got that whipped into shape, it’s easier to create that killer introduction. That’s also the perfect time to revisit your headline and make sure it’s as strong as possible.
Edit and Polish … Ruthlessly
Plan to make several passes through your copy at this point.
First, read through to find typos, fix up those problem sentences, and polish the language.
Then check for accuracy. Make sure your links are correct, your references are accurate, and that you’ve correctly spelled the names of your interviewees or people you’re quoting.
Read it aloud. If you stutter through a sentence while reading it out loud, it’s likely your readers will have problems with it.
If you have time, get another set of eyes on it. We all reach a point where we’ve looked at our writing so many times, we can’t see what’s really there anymore. A fresh reader can catch things you just breeze past at this stage.
I like to build in one more day — or at least a gap of several hours — so I can read through one last time before I send it off.
How Did I Do?
I promised a case study to see how well I was able to reduce my content creation time.
Following the advice above, I reduced my time by about 25-30%, before the final edit.
I typically spend time on additional research while I’m writing, but by forcing myself away from the researching-while-writing mode, I’ve definitely cut down on my overall time.
As an experienced, but — let’s face it — lazy writer, I don’t usually outline for short articles and blogs. Or I’ll outline “in my head” before I sit down to write. But taking a couple of minutes to jot down the main points to cover is an easy way to add a little structure at the outset, and it does make the writing go more smoothly.
Let me know in the comments how this approach works for you.