May 10, 2019 by Sarra Cannon
Have you ever wished you could write a little bit faster? Do you struggle sometimes to write as many words per day as you really want to?
Today, I have some great writing tips for you that I know will help almost everyone to begin to write faster and more consistently. However, I also want to add a little caveat here in the beginning of this post.
Writing faster is not the most important thing in the world! Yes, we all want to be more productive, make money, and have a career as writers. And honestly, if you’re an indie, it does seem like an awful lot of conversation lately revolves around putting out books as fast as possible and then marketing the mess out of them with ads.
I could talk about this ALL day, but what I want to say before we get started is that while writing faster will benefit most writers to some degree, we never want to push beyond our ability to produce quality books. Every single writer is different. While some authors can write ten quality books a year, others might need five years to write a book that feels right and aligns with their best work.
I’ll have another post soon about comparison, because it’s one of those joy-stealing things that so many of us run up against as authors, but for today, just know that we are all entitled to our own writing process. Don’t compare your writing speed to anyone else or let someone else’s output make you feel like you aren’t good enough.
If you want to learn to write faster, do it for yourself and compare your improvements only to your current output. Don’t compare your output to anyone else’s, because that can be such toxic behavior that can steal your joy.
Whew, okay! Now that I got that out of my system, let’s move on to my top tips for How To Write Faster.
One of the number one ways to improve your writing speed is to go into a writing session with a really great idea of what you’ll be writing.
Whether you’re a “plotter” or a “pantser” or somewhere in between, it helps tremendously to sit down knowing which scenes you’ll be writing. This doesn’t mean you need to have every word figured out, because that would take an enormous amount of pre-work. However, being able to visualize the opening of the scene and what you’re hoping to accomplish is a great way to write faster.
If you sit down without any real idea of what you’ll be writing, that can usually only carry you so far. You have to stop and start a lot as you think through the scene and how you want it to go.
However, I have definitely found that when I can close my eyes and visualize the day’s scenes like a movie in my mind, I tend to write so much faster and more consistently.
One thing I like to do is when I finish up a writing session for the day, I take a few minutes afterward to jot down some notes and visualize what is coming next. How do my characters react to what happened in today’s writing? What needs to happen next in the pacing of this novel?
That way, when I sit down to write the next day, I already have some good notes on what I’m writing. Once I started doing this (mostly on index cards), it increased my productivity by at least double.
You might also want to check out my video and post series on How To Plot Your Novel.
When you are writing a rough draft, it doesn’t have to be perfect! This is just your first attempt at this story. Every word doesn’t have to be the exact right word. Your description doesn’t have to be completely on point. Dialogue can be a little rambling.
You will have a chance during edits (most likely multiple rounds of edits) to fix anything that isn’t perfect. All you are doing in this initial draft is figuring out the story. You’re ‘trying it on’ in a way.
Come to the keyboard with the idea that you’re going to just embrace the flow of words and stop worrying about every word being perfect.
Once you embrace flow rather than perfection, you will start to see your words coming faster and easier. If a word doesn’t convey an emotion perfectly, just leave it there as a placeholder. Think through it later and come back to it. Just keep going.
I’ve talked about this so much already, but if you aren’t familiar with writing sprints, here’s what I do.
I choose a time and set a timer on my phone. Right now, my “sweet spot” for writing sprints is either 20 minutes or 25 minutes at a time. You can experiment with times and see what works best for you. For you, it might be 15 minutes, or it may be that you get more done or feel more comfortable with 60 minute sprints.
Every writer is different, so experiment with different sprinting times to see what works best for you. For example, when I was first starting out, I realized that at 15 minutes, I was just getting into the groove, so stopping that early really hurt me in terms of word count. On the flip side, though, going for 40 minutes was too long to hold my focus, and I started to slow down by the end of it.
That’s when I landed on about 25 minutes per word sprint. That totally works for me as a sweet spot for my focus.
So, basically, you set a timer and you just write for that period of time. When the timer goes off, you stop and take a break.
You might be familiar with this method, which is commonly known as the Pomodoro Technique. With Pomodoro, you typically will work for a set time like 25 minutes, take a short break of about 5 minutes, then get back to work for 25. After every 3 rotations of this schedule, you will take a longer break of about 15 minutes.
Pomodoro Technique is a productivity tool that can be used for completing any type of work, but I love to apply it to my writing, and it’s common in the writing world to just call these writing sprints.
The reason this works is that once you’ve found your own personal sweet spot through experimentation, it breaks up your working time and encourages you to apply all your mental focus to your writing for a limited period of time before you take a break.
I have found this to be enormously important when it comes to writing faster. I can typically get more done in one 25 minute very focused sprint than I can in an hour of distracted writing time.
This tip goes hand-in-hand with word sprints. It’s all about focus. If your writing time is constantly being interrupted by social media notifications, text messages, people wanting to talk with you, or a quick check of your Instagram feed, you’re not optimizing your writing time.
When you sit down for a focused period of writing time, do yourself a favor and turn your phone on “do not disturb” so that you don’t hear all the bells and dings of messages coming through. Put a note on your office door telling people not to bug you for a bit. Put your headphones in at a cafe so people know you’re busy.
Whatever you can do to eliminate distractions is going to help you write faster. I promise!
This is why I love sprints. The sprints allow me to remove all distractions and focus 100% on my writing for those 25 minutes. Then, I get a break to check Facebook or YouTube comments, say hi to my friend, change my playlist, whatever. Then when the break timer goes off, it’s time to focus again.
Next time you sit down to write, pay close attention to what distracts you from your writing. Make a note of it and then take some time to figure out how to remove that distraction next time you sit down. Some of this is going to be about getting rid of bad habits, but I know you can do it! Take it one distraction at a time, and you will begin to increase focus and write faster.
What is your ideal writing time on any given day? Are you a morning writer? Or a night owl?
Sometimes, we don’t have much choice in terms of when to write, because we’re so busy that we only have a set time each day. However, many of us have some level of flexibility on this, especially if you are a full-time author.
One way to improve how fast you write is to experiment with different times of day. Track your data to see when you tend to produce the most amount of words. The results might surprise you!
I tend to be a night owl, so I arranged my schedule to write mostly at night for a long time. However, after I had a child, I realized that I wasn’t able to get as much done in the evenings. I was tired, y’all. It’s a struggle.
Then a friend suggested I write in the mornings before I’m completely brain-fried. Whoa! Life-changing moment! It’s such a simple thing, but because I was stuck in a routine of writing at night, it hadn’t even occurred to me. Once I started experimenting with my morning schedule, I was able to find my ideal daily writing time.
Writing in that pocket of ideal time has helped me to increase my writing output.
This is one of those tips that is surprisingly overlooked when it comes to advice on how to write faster, but it’s one of those things that really makes a huge difference.
If you’re typing your novel, you can only write as fast as you can type. Working on your typing speed can also help you to write faster overall.
I took a typing class way back in High School, and I know that has made a huge difference in how fast I can write. I also had a friend point me toward a fun zombie game called “The Typing of The Dead” a few years ago, and that has also helped me to both unwind and practice my typing skills in a fun way. (Yes, you kill zombies by typing words that pop up over their heads. I got it on Steam, and I play it every week.)
If you’re someone who kind of pecks your way across a keyboard, consider finding an online typing class or game that will help you to place your hands correctly on the keyboard and increase your words-per-minute output on the keyboard. It will help so much!!
This tip is actually one I haven’t done myself, but I knew it needed to be a part of this post, because so many authors have tripled their writing output by dictating their novels rather than typing them.
Dictation is basically just speaking your novel into a program that will transcribe it, rather than physically typing it out. A popular program for this is Dragon Dictation.
From what I’ve heard, there is a learning curve to this in terms of training your brain to speak your novel, rather than type it. There’s also a learning curve to using the program or training it to understand you.
However, I’ve heard many authors talk about how they can write 3,000 words or more per hour using dictation, so it deserves a mention in this post on how to write faster.
If you use dictation, please let us know in the comments if it’s helping you write faster!
My final tip for today on how to write faster is to be consistent. This is huge. If you only work on your manuscript once a week or once in a blue moon, you’re going to be slow. Period.
When you have to constantly remember what you were working on or recall your train of thought, you’re going to be wasting a lot of time in your writing process.
Being consistent while you’re writing your rough draft means touching it almost every single day. Writing something on a daily basis can help you stay in the mental zone when it comes to your project. That way, when you sit down to write, you’re just picking up where you left off yesterday, rather than trying to remember what happened two weeks ago when you last wrote.
When I’m drafting a novel, I write every single day almost without exception. That doesn’t mean I always write 3,000 words each day (though that would be nice, right?), but it does mean I at least write 100 words or one sprint a day. I at least stay in the story mentally so that I can come back to it easily the next day.
If your schedule doesn’t allow you time to write every single day, try your best to set up a schedule that even gives you at least 10 minutes a day to read back through yesterday’s words or to visualize what scene you’ll be writing next.
Stay consistent when it comes to living in your story world, and I promise it will pay off with faster writing, too.
I sincerely hope you have found these top tips on how to write faster helpful. In the comments, I’d love to know which tips you’re planning to try first.
If you have made some improvements in your own writing speed, let us know what has worked for you. It’s great to all share your personal tips here so that everyone can benefit!
And please, don’t forget! Writing faster is great when you’re doing it for yourself because you want to improve, but don’t compare yourself to others. You are on your own writing journey, and you are doing great exactly where you are now!
I have been self-publishing my books since 2010, and in that time, I've sold well over half a million copies of my books. I'm not a superstar or a huge bestseller, but I have built an amazing career that brings me great joy. Here at Heart Breathings, I hope to help you find that same level of success. Let's do this.
Thank you for this post. I needed this right now!
It was commendably interesting Sarra.
Great tips! Consistency, relearning how to type and using pomodoros were all massive productivity boosts for me (I especially love using the pomodoro break time to move to another location; library to museum or coffee shop, or desk to couch with a lap desk, etc).
The tip you didn’t mention which has been the best for me is to say NO to other things. No to chores, no to helping other people, no to that new, shiny project that is so much more alluring than writing that clunky old novel I’ve been working on for months. Writing more words is about doing less in other areas of life.
I’ve never tried dictating, but the idea is intriguing. I’ll let you know how I go if I do try it out.
Thanks for creating these posts,
Yes, that is so important, too! Saying no is a great skill, and it’s hard to do it sometimes!