These past few months, I noticed I’ve been writing at a pretty consistent speed, day in day out. So, last week, it occurred to me to do the math. Just out of curiosity.
The results were pretty astonishing.
I wrote exactly 10,061 words in five days. And that’s just for one client.
What makes this figure even more incredible to me is that, only six months ago, writing a mere 2100 words a week was a struggle. That’s almost five times less than last week’s figure.
And no, I don’t work particularly long hours.
My day usually starts at around 9.30 am, give or take. I’ll break for 1 or 2 hours in the afternoon to have lunch, go for a walk and generally just laze about; and I’ll start working again from around 2.30 or 3 pm till about 5 or 6 pm. That’s six or seven hours a day, on average. Not too shabby.
So how do I manage to get so much work done in so little time, you may ask?
As it turns out, the answer lies in my process and how it has changed over time.
Do All Your Research First
When I first started writing professionally, I’d just jump straight into it and figure shit out as I went along.
This was the method I’d been using all my life, whether for a school essay, a research paper or even my thesis. Soon enough, though, I realised this approach was really holding me back.
As a professional writer, you need to understand the subject-matter, check your facts and then lay everything out in an engaging format that’s easy to digest and delivers the results your clients want.
Oh, you also have to produce a certain volume of writing on a regular basis. And it must be of great quality and delivered on time. Otherwise, you won’t be able make a decent living at this.
At the risk of stating the obvious, hitting all these requirements just isn’t possible if you have no idea what the fuck you’re writing about.
Luckily there’s a cure for this. It’s called doing your research ahead of time.
Not doing your research before you start writing really slows you down, because – guess what? – at some point, you’re still going to have to do it. And, more often than not, you’ll have to do it mid-sentence, which disrupts your train of thought and stops your flow.
Of course, you may still have to refer back or look up something extra as you go along. I know I do. But, trust me, it’s much easier to get started if you’re already familiar with the material.
Start With An Outline
In sixth form, I had to read this book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
It wasn’t a particularly good read (or maybe it’s that it was too complex for my 16 year old self). But it did contain one observation that stuck with me. It went something like this (and I’m paraphrasing wildly) “When you don’t know where to start, it’s because there’s too much to say.”
This thought came back to me one fine day, straight in the middle of my umpteenth hand-wringing session in front of a blank page.
So I wrote an outline.
Nothing fancy. Just a title and three or four subheadings.
The difference it made was incredible.
For one, it helps you collect your thoughts and direct your focus.
More importantly, it makes the task at hand far less intimidating. Suddenly, it isn’t an article of such and such word length anymore. It’s an introduction and two or three paragraphs on each subheading.
Sounds way more doable, right?
And there’s more.
Fill In The Blanks
I used to suffer from what I call “A to Z Syndrome”.
For some reason, I absolutely had to have the intro down before I could move on to the next part of my task.
I know now that this way of writing is incredibly inefficient, frustrating and counter-productive.
There you are, wracking your brain over how the hell to open, when you know exactly how the rest has to go.
To add insult to injury, once you’ve finally come up with a serviceable intro, you’ll discover you’ve forgotten that really cool turn of phrase you wanted to use somewhere else.
Well. Fuck me, right?
These days, I’ll start with whatever I have the clearest ideas about. It might be the intro, but most often it isn’t. In fact, sometimes I might even start with the conclusion or call to action (and yes, you can always change that later).
Just fill in each bit of your piece as it occurs to you. Get it over and done with. Invariably, the rest will come naturally as you go along.
Let’s face it.
Editing is probably the bane of most writers’ existence.
Who hasn’t stopped mid-sentence, at least once in their life, to tweak a paragraph or two?
Again, this really slows you down and is incredibly counter-productive, because it interrupts your train of thought and stops your flow in its tracks.
It’s also much harder to be objective when your piece is still in process. Before you know it, you’re repeatedly reading from the beginning, just to see how it flows. This wastes even more precious time, and makes it harder and harder to look at the big picture.
Admittedly, I still struggle with this sometimes. But I’m striving to get better.
You need to force yourself to keep writing.
Not only will it make the process much quicker, it will also make your editing much more effective; because the more you read and re-read a piece, the less likely you are to spot errors, even if they’re howlers.
Stick With It
Finally, my writing speed didn’t just improve because I tweaked my process. There’s also another reason.
I got better.
Writing is a skill. You need to work at it. The more you write, the more natural it will become. It’s as simple as that.
If you’re struggling with the speed, or even with the quality of your writing, I have one thing to say to you.
You will improve.
That’s a fact.
But you have to stick with it. Keep going. Commit to writing something every single day. Before you know it, you’ll be banging out 10,000 word whoppers without even thinking about it.
Do you have any writing techniques you’d like to share? Sound off in the comments below.