Whether you're drafting an email or writing a research paper, getting your words onto the page more quickly can help you save hours of your working life. If you want to write more in less time — but without sacrificing quality — you can employ a few tricks to speed things up.To be clear, we're not talking about the physical act of writing or typing. No matter how fast your typing skills are, the major bottleneck when it comes to writing is your head. If you can communicate more fluently on paper or monitor — overcoming common stumbling blocks — you may just find yourself a more prolific writer.
The prevailing literature about speed writing has turned up basically four things you can do to make your writing flow more easily and quickly:
Refine Your Main Idea
Like speed dating, speed writing requires you to communicate very quickly — in a short period of time — some essential ideas about yourself (or what you're writing about). The first step in speeding up your writing process, therefore, is to identify those main ideas.
Nothing slows writing down more than not knowing what it is you want to say or what you're writing about. Clarify and refine the main idea and major topics you have to cover beforehand, then identify and organise the research articles and materials that back up your story.
It doesn't matter what you're writing—an internal email, sales presentation or personal blog post — before you actually start typing or penning your draft: do you know what it is that you need to say to your specific audience? For the greatest writing output, don't start writing until you've identified the major ideas and gathered all the materials you need for your writing. This way, you'll be able to hit the ground running.
Use Productivity Tools to Write More Efficiently
Another essential part of prep is setting up the tools and environment that facilitate faster writing. Arm yourself with tools that save your reference materials online, spellcheck your online writing, and limit distractions. We've already covered the usefulness of dual monitors and text expansion tools, but their productivity gains bear repeating. Text expansion tools can save you so much time, particularly if your writing involves templates or repetitive text.
If the physical keyboard is what's slowing you down, some people benefit from using speech-to-text software like Dragon Natural Speaking or alternative keyboard layouts like Dvorak (users claim to be much more productive when using the Dvorak system).
At the end of the day, all of these tools are designed to help you meet your objective: to write unimpeded, more efficiently. In other words, solid preparation and making the best use of available tools can really help your words flow. Just keep in mind: It's not about geeking out on writing tools. As soon as something isn't helping you, ditch it.
Speed writing requires the preparation and setup above, and requires you to write nonstop until you've covered all the major ideas. Write your first draft very quickly — without stopping for errors in grammar or punctuation, looking up alternate words in the thesaurus, or doing any secondary research. Just write. Write your first draft nonstop and don't stop to re-read or edit each sentence or paragraph as you go along.
Often it helps to start with a warm-up writing session. Write a long email or begin your day tackling a less important writing task. Once you've gotten into the groove and if you've adequately prepared (as recommended above), you should be able to write more fluently.
After your first draft, you'll edit and proofread, but hopefully you'll find that the first speed-written draft (and its editing process) went much more more quickly than the times you fussed with the text while you were creating it.
Honing Your Craft
Getting to the Zen-like state where you're writing very efficiently nonstop and aren't even aware of the time passing will take practice. You can strengthen your writing abilities and speed by: reading everything you can get your hands on and writing every day. Studies have shown that the more frequently you write, the better and more quickly you do so later.
Also look for opportunities to simplify your writing, culling excess verbiage a la Strunk & White's Elements of Style. Try to use words more efficiently, eliminating unnecessary words like "personal" in phrases like "my personal favorite" (what other kind of favourite is there?). Typing unnecessary words wastes time, and because that's all we've really got, it pays to make as much of it as we can. Photo by laffy4k.
Got a trick that helped you speed up your writing process? Let's hear it in the comments.
This story has been updated since its original publication.