I believe in quality over quantity, especially in writing. Think about it: would you rather have one fantastic book that sells wonderfully and connects with your readers, or twenty terrible books that end up in the dollar bin at used bookstores?
That could depend on your ultimate goal as a writer, but that’s for a different post.
You probably prefer that one really great book, right? Me too. But you also probably don’t want to spend a decade of your life writing it.
If you want to write books for a living, then you have to take both quality and quantity into consideration. If you’re a professional author, then writing is your business and your books are your products. You can’t let whimsy keep you from being a smart businesswoman. Quality is very important, but so is volume, so learning to write as quickly as possible will serve you well.
Without further ado, here are ten essential tools, methods, and resources for writing more quickly.
10 Tools for Faster Writing
Note: Some of these ideas and methods are my own, and some are from other writers who have built very successful careers doing what they love. This post contains affiliate links to help me keep my site up and running. You can read my disclosure policy for more info.
#1 – Know what you’re going to write before you write it. Unless you’re a magician who can sit down and write an organized, engaging novel in its entirety without any planning ahead (if only), then you need to know as much about your story, setting, and characters as possible before you write it. Focus, and you can do this in a day. Winging your novel, while sometimes fun, means its likely to change (believe me), which can throw you off track if you’re writing under a deadline.
#2 – Determine your Story Core. Author Libbie Hawker introduced me to this idea in Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing. The Story Core contains the five essential elements a story needs in order to be compelling. Stripped way down (and seriously, this doesn’t do it justice), the Story Core includes your character, her desire, her struggle, and her ultimate success or failure. Hawker goes into much more detail, not just about the Story Core, but about effective outlining in general. And great outlines make for faster writers.
#3 – Don’t worry about details in your first draft. When you’re trying to write a novel in oh, say, a month (NaNoWriMo, anyone?), then spending three hours trying to choose the name of the diner where your protagonist meets her fiance is not productive. What I do when blasting through a rough draft of anything is fill those detail spaces with all caps. For example: When Nina entered NAME OF DINER, she saw Chris sitting in the corner booth. He stirred sugar into his coffee and picked up BOOK TITLE before noticing her and smiling. (Terrible sentence, I know.) Those little details are the ones you can go back and fill in as you revise. By that point you’ll know your characters and your story inside out, so those little details might become pretty meaningful ones. (In the same vein, check out Brianna Mae Morgan’s post on using brackets to write more quickly. Same concept, and it works!)
#4 – Choose a writing platform. I began my first novel in Word, transferred it to Google Docs, and ultimately wound up in Scrivener. Awful idea, I tell you. Do you know how hard it is to keep up with three different drafts of the same book and never quite know which one you worked on last? Ugh. Please learn from my mistake. Choose the platform that works best for you and stick with it.
#5 – Use a spreadsheet. I really love this idea from author Rachel Aaron in 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. She suggests keeping track of your writing time on a spreadsheet. Note when you start, when you stop, how many words you wrote (so you can calculate your WPH, or words per hour), and where you wrote (to track productivity). Then you can step back, check your word counts, and figure out where and when you’re most productive. Once you know, you can try to schedule the rest of your day around your most productive writing time.
#6 – Tell yourself the story first. “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story,” said author Terry Pratchett. That’s a fantastic way of looking at it. When you’re writing draft one, you’re not writing it the way you want other people to read it. You’re simply getting the words out, constructing a cohesive plot, and essentially telling yourself the story. Then, during the revision process, you can turn around and use that first draft to tell others the story exactly the way you want to.
#7 – Admit your distractions. You know what they are: Netflix binges, fridge raids, Facebook sprees. Mine include texting cat memes to my husband, organizing my closet, and browsing Pinterest. Before I know it, an hour has passed and I have forty tabs open with pins that I want to read, save, cook, wear, or do. Oh, it is terrible. Wonderful, but terrible. Anyway, as soon as you know what distracts you more than anything, then you can avoid it at all costs. Not necessarily all day every day, but just during your writing time. Remember that spreadsheet from earlier? Well, now that you know when and where you’re most productive, AND you know your biggest distractions, you can set up your own ideal circumstances for your most efficient writing.
#8 – Connect with writers and readers. As you’re slamming out your rough draft, don’t neglect the importance of community. Make weekly time to connect with fellow writerly friends in your area (through workshops, coffee dates, etc.) to hold each other accountable. But don’t stop there. One of the greatest things about the Internet is the potential for community-building. Utilize your favorite social media platforms to connect with fellow writers and readers, and in the process, you’ll be building your author platform. End result? More books sold (yay!) and more friends (even better!). Not sure where to start? Pick up a free copy of The Complete Social Media Cheat Sheet for Novelists for groups you can join, hashtags you can use, and other writer-specific resources.
#9 – Word sprints. I found out about this method from The #1 Secret to Writing Faster and Saving Your Time by Jenny Bravo. This is exactly what it sounds like. Set a timer and write as much as you can, and every time your inner perfectionist says, “But, wait…” as you’re writing, you hand her a glass of red and a square of dark chocolate and tell her to chill until your time is up.
#10 – Keep an editing list. When you begin your revision process, start by combing through your manuscript and making a simple list of everything you definitely need to change. Then prioritize that list so you can begin with the most difficult fixes and work your way down. Don’t worry about sentence-level, grammatical stuff until your final read-through. That’s for the proofreading phase, which comes last.
If you’re trying to become a faster writer, please remember that perfection doesn’t happen in the first draft. And it may not even happen in the second or third. In fact, when it comes to any kind of art, perfection is always going to be subjective. Even DaVinci said that “art is never finished, only abandoned.” So no matter how much you write, rewrite, revise, and tweak your manuscript, there will always be someone who doesn’t like it, and that’s totally fine. That’s just part of being a writer.
But be a smart writer. Use your time well to write efficiently and produce books that will improve the lives of the people who do support you and your work.
Do you have any other tips or strategies for writing more quickly? I’d love to hear! Leave a comment below or join the Ladies in Read Community on Pinterest to share your best writing tips.