17 Tips for How to Write Faster
17 tips and tricks to help you write faster and make your writing time as productive as possible.
Whether you write part-time or full-time, consider yourself an amateur, or a member of the ranks of professional writers, most of us want to learn how to write more with what time we have. Writing is a numbers game. The more content you have written, the more you can sell, if your goal is to make an income from your work. It’s also true for serial fiction writers releasing their work for free, in hopes of building a fanbase. Serial readers can be voracious, which incentivizes fast writing to keep up with their demand. So, how can you increase your writing speed to get more of your fiction out into the world?
Everyone’s writing process is different, as is the amount of writing time you have available. This list of practical tips to improve your writing speed is not meant to be all-inclusive, or work for everyone. Take what sounds good to you, and ignore the rest.
#1: Write every day - Yes, it’s one of the most cliche writing tips, but it’s cliche for a reason. Writing is like a muscle; exercise it regularly, and the words will flow more easily. Don’t write, and the skill atrophies and it can be harder to get started again. I know this from experience – I went 10 years without writing, before I started the Planar Gates series. When I started again, it took weeks to shake off the rust and sharpen my writing skills back to their best. If I take even 2-3 days off, it takes longer to get into the groove once I start again.
If you do not have a lot of time on a particular day, it’s still worth opening your current writing project for a bit. Even if it’s just ten minutes. Even if you only write a paragraph or two. I’ve found that short sessions are better than none at all, and they help me keep the story fresh in my mind.
#2: Think through what you want to write in advance - Naturally, you’re going to write faster if you know the main points of what will happen before you sit down to write. It’s not necessary to know every fine detail of a scene, but the stronger a sense you have of what’s going to happen, the less time you’ll spend staring at the screen. Consider creating an outline or template of key points for the scenes you intend to write, to help maintain focus.
#3: Find your best time to write - Everyone’s biorhythms are different. Some people function well in the mornings, while others shuffle around aimlessly like extras on The Walking Dead. Perhaps you’re a night owl who does your best work after 10pm. If you don’t already know when during the day you’re at your creative peak, experiment with writing at different times of day, until you have a strong sense of when it feels most natural to you.
It’s perfectly natural for these “golden hours” to change over time, so be ready to adapt your writing habits as needed. In my college days, I was an extreme morning person, doing my best work between 4-8am. Now, my creative peak tends to happen between 10am and 2pm - tough for the typical weekday, but since I know this, I plan my weekends accordingly.
#4: No distractions! - Hide the phone under the mattress. Disable WiFi. If noise is an issue, find a quiet place, like a library. Stay on topic - if you need to look something up, make yourself a note and check it out later. Many an author has pulled up Google to confirm one detail and fallen down a research rabbit hole for hours. Social media is my biggest distraction, especially Discord, so it’s not installed on my writing laptop. Everything that keeps you from the act of writing must be set aside.
#5: Use placeholder text - Don’t know what to say at a specific moment? Forgot a character or species name? Skip it! Don’t get bogged down in details at this point. Put something in the text that will help you remember that spot when it comes time for editing. I like using CAPITAL LETTERS so the THING I NEED TO FIX stands out. Others use symbol chains, like *****character name here***** or !!!!! name !!!!!.
#6: Find your happy place - Where do you feel most creative and inspired to write? Many authors are creatures of habit about their surroundings. Ideally, there is a space where you live that feels safe and comfortable, where you can relax and let the real world slip away while your words tumble across the pages, but I know that’s not possible for everyone. Most public libraries will have tables available. Coffee shops and cafes are popular choices too. It was good enough for Ernest Hemingway, so why not? They have caffeine and snacks!
#7: Establish writing goals - Set aside a specific amount of time for writing, or a target word count, or do both. Having a specific goal in mind helps focus the session, ending it with a greater feeling of accomplishment when that target is achieved. So, instead of just sitting down to write, perhaps try saying to yourself, “I’m going to write for two hours, and write at least 1,000 words.” Start with easy goals, and make them more challenging over time as your skills grow. You want to win this challenge and feel good, not set a challenge that will create anxiety that derails your writing session.
#8: Accept imperfection - Nobody wins a Pulitzer Prize or a Hugo Award off their first draft of a manuscript. Relax. There will be errors. Set aside perfectionism. Don’t waste time worrying about spell checks, formatting, or revisions. The typos can wait. I know, this is easier said than done, but nobody sees your rough draft unless you want them to, so it’s OK if it’s ugly.
#9: Find an accountability buddy - Contrary to what I was taught in school, peer pressure is not always a bad thing! If you’re friends with other authors, talk with them about your goals. Any goal is fine, whether it is X words per day, a target deadline to have a chapter finished, or reach a certain overall word count. Check in with each other at least once a week about how you’re doing.
This should be a positive relationship. You’re both trying to lift each other up, and inspire your partner to achieve their goals. You wouldn’t want to let them down by failing to achieve your own! Some friendly competition here is perfectly OK, as long as it doesn't turn into a distraction which hinders your focus.
#10: Write out of order - We humans may experience time in a linear manner, but that doesn’t mean our books have to be written that way. If you’re stuck on some details about Chapter 5, but your head is spinning with thoughts about the fight scene in Chapter 15, go write Chapter 15! Don’t waste time staring at the blank screen of one chapter, if you have words ready to go somewhere else.
#11: Build a bridge to the next day - Instead of writing until you’re all out of ideas, stop a session mid-sentence, where you know what’s going to happen next. This can make it easier to get into the writing flow next time, because you’re not starting something from scratch. You could also jot down a 1-2 sentence summary of what’s to come as a quick reminder, just make sure you’re leaving yourself enough material to work with for the next session.
#12: Try Writing Sprints - Unleash your inner literary Sonic the Hedgehog through the use of writing sprints. The goal of a sprint is simple: write as many words as possible within a set time period. Periods are usually kept short, from five to thirty minutes. Don’t stop writing until time runs out. This can be done solo, or as a group challenge with other authors. While no fancy software is needed to do a sprint, if you’re feeling adventurous, Write or Die acts as a word processor with sprint features built in. If you’re really daring, enable “Kamikaze Mode,” which will start deleting your words if you pause for too long!
#13: Free writing - If you are suffering from writer's block, or dont have a specific topic you need to cover, free writing is a technique that can warm up your mind to writing. All you need to do is sit down and type whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry if it jumps from one topic to the next, just keep it going and let the thoughts spill out for a set period of time. Don't worry about grammar errors. This paragraph was written through free writing, and only later edited to fix grammar and spelling errors, but not content.
#14: Stop writing - It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes the key to writing more is to just stop writing. Quit staring at a blank page and go for a walk. Read a chapter or two of a book. Give your brain a breather before diving back into the story. Unless I'm deep into a groove, I take a break for five to ten minutes after every hour of writing. I have found in two hour sessions that I’m more productive when I take that break, than when I try to write for two solid hours without stopping.
#15: The Pomodoro Technique - This time-management technique revolves around blocks of time called “pomodoros” (the word is Italian for tomato). Each pomodoro is 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a five-minute break. No distractions, no side-tasks. Choose a goal and stick with it until the timer rings. After completing four pomodoros, there is a longer break, from 15-30 minutes. For those who want or need breaks throughout the day, and also need structure, give this a try.
#16: Practice - One surefire way to write faster is to literally learn how to write faster, by increasing typing speed. There are a lot of games out there that help you train and practice typing, many of which are free. If you don’t mind paying, The Typing of the Dead merges typing exercises with arcade-style zombie shooting.
#17: Dictation - Speech-to-text technology has come a long way, and can now usually translate your words with a high degree of accuracy. I say usually, as fantasy writers like myself have to contend with the systems taking our made-up names and terms and translating them into gibberish. Dictation is a little less effective with fantasy and some science fiction due to the extra corrections needed. For stories without a lot of special jargon however, dictation can be great.
There are many different dictation programs available, but Otter is the dictation software I use and would recommend. Their basic plan allows for 600 minutes (10 hours) of recording time every month, for free. They have an app for smartphones, making it possible to write in scenarios where that might otherwise not be possible (or practical). Make some progress on your story while stuck in traffic, taking a hike, washing the dishes, waiting on an oil change… You get the idea.
Conclusion - We all approach writing in different ways. What works for me probably isn’t ideal for you. Hopefully, some of the ideas listed here help kickstart your thinking on what you can do to improve your own writing speed. Do you have ideas not listed here? Join us on Discord and let us know!