We’ve all been there.
You’ve got a story or an article you need to write, and you’re just not moving fast enough. Sometimes you’re not in the right mindset. Other times, you’re just too distracted by all the other things you need to get done around the house.
Whether it’s your brain or your fingers causing the problems, try these easy hacks to write faster.
1. Set a Timer
One of the best classes I took in college was my first reporting course. It was a two-hour class, and we typically spent half an hour to an hour on instruction. The rest of the class was spent doing research for our newspaper articles and writing them. They were due before we could leave class. If you stayed after class to finish, you went down one letter grade. Turned it in the next day? Down another letter grade. That was a pretty good incentive to write fast. And it is the perfect training for a newspaper reporter. You don’t get an extra day to turn in your articles, because news gets old real fast.
You can replicate that experience by using a stopwatch. You’ve probably got one built into your phone or computer. Or you can use one of the online stopwatches or even by a cute kitchen timer — that might make the exercise seem more real anyway.
If the timer isn’t enough to keep you motivated, you might go hardcore and try Write or Die. If you stop writing, it flashes a warning and, if you choose that option, starts deleting what you’ve already typed. How’s that as incentive to keep going?
Sometimes, though, the issue is distraction. Find a piece of software that blocks your most distracting apps and sites, such as Freedom for the Mac. This allows you to schedule daily blocks of uninterrupted time or turn it on manually when you need it. It can even block access to games on your phone (not that I’ve ever been distracted by Bejeweled, Candy Crush, or Pet Rescue).
2. Skip Around
If you’re stuck on something, move on to something else. I truly think this is the number one thing that separates hobby writers from professionals. (And it’s another trick I learned in my journalism courses in college.)
If you can’t figure something out or you think you need to go back to your notes to fill it in, put XXXXXX in your text and move past it. If you go back to your notes to find a quotation or fact — or hit the Internet — you could lose hours of valuable writing time. Just get through your draft and fill in the XXXXXX’s later. Search and replace to find them all, especially if your working on a book-length manuscript.
Of if a section of your work in progress isn’t coming together, set it aside and work on a different part. Is chapter 7 calling you when you’re supposed to be working on chapter 6? That’s okay. You can come back to chapter 6 when it’s ready for you. It’s not going anywhere.
3. Put It Off
I know. Procrastination is the devil. It’s why so many people haven’t finished their great American novel — or even that short story they’ve been mulling.
The key is to use procrastination wisely.
I’ve learned that I can either stay up late and spend three hours on a task or get up one hour early and knock it out in 30-45 minutes. I just write faster at 5 a.m., especially for non-fiction. (I probably should get up at 5 every day and write. Perhaps I’ll give that a try and let you know how it goes. Five a.m. seems so daunting on a daily basis.)
Learn your body and your writing so you know when you’re efficient. Your fingers may move like slugs first thing in the morning, but that time after the kids go to bed? That’s when the words flow out of you in rapid fire. And, if you’re rocking a day job, nighttime writing is going to be a superpower many of us will envy.
4. Use Music
Even if I don’t have music playing, I’ve likely got a soundtrack running in my head. It keeps me moving and gives my writing energy.
When I’m working on fiction, I use playlists to keep me focused on my characters and their back stories and motivations. (It’s amazing how even the darkest subjects have a perfect song.) This is a trick I picked up from Twitter — many of the authors I was following shared their character playlists with readers to help them get inside the writers’ head and understand the process a little.
If your music library isn’t working, try Focus At Will. It uses science-based musical compositions to keep you focused on the task at hand. Need background noise? Try the coffee shop channel, which sounds just like you’re sitting in a busy coffee shop. (But if you need to physically leave your house and go to a coffee shop to get something done, just do it.)
Focus at Will is a subscription service, but it can really amp up your productivity. And, if you are working a day job, it can help you be more productive there, too.
5. Try Free Writing
Poet Sage Cohen, who I interviewed for PNW Writers, suggests free writing. Just putting words on the page with no plan helped her shift gears from strategic copywriting (which she did during the day) to her poetry. After doing that for years, she says, she no longer needs to do the actual exercise to get her mind into the right mode — she’s got it “baked in.”
You can use free writing like a variation of the morning pages Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way — just do them before you start writing, rather than first thing in the morning.
What are your favorite tricks to write faster? Share them in the comments below.