13 Things I Learned About Writing Faster

The speed of publication is one of the biggest advantages of self-publishing. No longer do you have to wait one year (or more) between release dates. You can publish whenever you’re ready. And when you publish often, especially if you put out books in the same series in rapid succession, you get increased visibility & greater reader engagement.

But to publish faster, you also need to write faster.

Of course “faster” is a relative term. There are writers out there who write one or more novels per month. But mostly, writers who turn out 2-3 novels per year are already considered prolific, and I’d be super happy if I could count myself in that category.

So to narrow the gap between the release date of my first novel (The Deep Link) and that of the second novel in the trilogy (The Prime Rift), I’ve undergone a rigorous mindset and routine overhaul. I’ve taken a close look at every single aspect of what makes a writer fast, and tried to up my game in all those areas. It’s been a really tough and rewarding experience, and over the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging about my findings and share awesome tips & tricks with you.

To kick things off with a neat list, here are:

Android Type Faster

13 Things I Learned About Writing Faster

 

1. Make writing your Top Priority

If writing is your dream, then you should make it your top priority as well. That means writing has to be the first task on your to do list every day. Until you finish your day’s writing chunk, everything else is a distraction. That includes checking your email & social media feed, reading, cleaning, etc. (Of course feeding your kids and walking your pets is not on this list, but everything that can be done later, will have to be done after you write.)

2. Writing first thing in the morning is HUGELY helpful

Because until you hit your day’s writing goal, everything else is a distraction, it really pays to start writing as early as possible. In the morning, your mind is clear and your reserve of willpower is full, even writing as little as 100-500 words can set you up for a successful writing day.

I know many writers swear on waking up before dawn, and I personally like that too. While I wrote The Prime Rift, I regularly woke up at 5 am to write before going to work. But if that’s not your thing, it’s perfectly ok. You can still sit down and write for a few minutes first thing, even if you wake up at noon. What matters is only that the first activity of your day is invested into your top priority: writing.

3. Having a great outline is half the victory

In order to write fast, it really pays to have a plan beforehand. So having a good, solid outline can be a real help. It doesn’t matter how detailed it is so long as it works for you, and guides you from one writing session to another. Not having to wonder what to write next will greatly reduce the tendency to procrastinate.

The equivalent for pantsers would be to take a few minutes after each writing session and brainstorm for the next one, make some notes, or even start writing the first few sentences of the next chapter before calling it a day.

Basically, having a map — even if it only shows your next stop on the road — will greatly increase your speed.

4. Your first outline isn’t necessarily a great outline

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. This is as valid in writing as in war, and it means that you shouldn’t get too caught up in your initial outline.

I found that no matter how much I plan beforehand, when I actually start writing the draft, about halfway in, I can completely ditch my initial outline. That used to drive me nuts, but I’ve come to see it as just another part of the game. So what if the initial outline doesn’t cut it anymore? That only means the story evolves organically, and you should always listen to the story (and your gut). After all, no one had all his best ideas at the same time. Things are bound to change as you move along the storyline. And that’s perfectly fine.

5. What gets measured gets managed

I should have put this first in the list, but even though most writers swear by it (including me), it’s not a must if you’re already experienced and have a good feel for your speed.

Tracking your progress (via spreadsheet, phone app, etc.) is vital if you want to increase your speed and/or create a consistent writing routine. I use spreadsheets (here’s a free writing project management & tracking template for you to download!), and I found it really helps a lot to figure things out. Like: when during the day I write fastest, what my average daily output is, and what my words-per-hour is. All these things help plan the drafting phase of a novel, and can even help me figure out how many novels I could write in a year without going insane.

If you’re serious about having a career as a self-published author, knowing what your production schedule looks like and how fast you can complete projects is essential. In order to know all these things, and get a good feeling for how productive you are, you need to track your output.

6. Separating decision-making from typing does the trick

Writing fiction is actually a series of decisions, with typing in between. The hard part of writing isn’t the typing. It’s the decision making. That’s when we doubt ourselves, procrastinate, change our minds and make mistakes. And all these things slow us down.

Separating the decision making process from the actual typing will greatly increase your writing speed, and reduce the headaches. But what does it mean?

It means you sit down before each writing session and plan out what you want to write. Who does what, where and when, and what’s the outcome. You make all the little decisions about the scene before even starting to write it. Then, when you have a sketch in place, like a map of your scene, you can sit down and just type. And you’ll be much faster overall –planning time included — than if you try to make all those little decision while you’re actually writing the scene.

7. [Placeholders] are your [friends]

When you’re in the flow, don’t stop to research facts or look for better words. Use generic placeholders instead.

Don’t remember the name of a restaurant or city? Just type [CITY] instead. Don’t know the temperature at which carbon dioxide turns into dry ice? Just type [TEMP] and move on. This goes for names of minor characters, events, technologies, spells, whatever. All of these little details can be corrected later without interrupting the flow of your writing. You can always go back and do a search for “[” and fill in the missing information.

You can even use this for descriptions. I find that I tend to interrupt my own flow most often when I’m writing descriptions. I look for a specific word to describe something, and it’s on the tip of my tongue but I just can’t find it. Before, I used to stop writing and open a thesaurus. And that usually ended up with me procrastinating again. Now I just type the next best synonym (or even descriptive phrase) between brackets and move on.

To be honest, I was resistant to using placeholders for a long time. But I’ve used it a lot this time around, and it made a huge difference to me. Stopping to check things online is a recipe for procrastination. Best to avoid it.

8. Social media isn’t

Because once you touch your browser, a lot of things can go wrong with your writing session. And they will.

I love checking my social media feeds, but it’s THE BIGGEST time suck of all. So while drafting, I’ve reduced it to a bare minimum, and trained myself to only open Facebook, Twitter & co AFTER finishing my writing for the day.

Everyone of us is more or less responsive to the siren song of social media, so calibrate your response accordingly. If you’re prone to spend hours on Facebook, Reddit, etc. then you have to postpone it to after you finish your writing for the day. It’s tough as hell (changing any habit is always tough) but sooo worth it. You can’t significantly improve your writing speed if you keep drifting away from your goal to check what others are ranting about.

9. Perfectionism is the death of creativity

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: being hard on yourself, turning parts of yourself into The Enemy and then fighting against them will never lead to victory. Working against yourself never yields productivity. You have to find a balance and unity within yourself, and help yourself achieve your goal.

Having extraordinary standards and expectations won’t help you write any faster. It will slow you down until you grind down to a halt and end up hating yourself for not being more “disciplined.” But it’s not discipline that perfectionists usually lack. It’s acceptance of the ups and downs of a normal working routine.

So I’ve printed this and stuck it on the bottom of my monitor, and it helped me keep my perfectionism in check:

Standards that don’t deliver, don’t work.

If your supreme expectations from yourself and your work are preventing you from actually working and finishing anything, then those expectations are crap. Get rid of them and write.

10. Celebrating progress is VITAL 

This is also a part of combating perfectionism, but it applies to everyone. We need to celebrate victories, even small ones, every single day. And every amount by which our wordcount increases is a victory in itself.

Celebrate any way you like (even if it’s just a pat on your own shoulder), but celebrate. It’s important. We need little rewards along the way to keep going, especially during long projects or hard writing schedules.

It’s really shocking how often and how ready writers are to berate themselves for not hitting their daily target. And how reluctant they are to congratulate themselves for having written at all on a tough day. But we should really be nicer to ourselves. After all, would you be that hard on someone else who’s working hard each day to help you fulfill your dream?

11. Conversational tone is the fastest to write and the easiest to read

This should be a no-brainer, but if you’ve emerged from school or college with the impression (like me) that all great writers write in a literary style, it’s a revelation.

The novels I enjoy reading the most, and the passages I had most fun writing & wrote the fastest, are in a conversational tone. While I do enjoy reading elegant prose, it’s really not necessary to tell a good story, and definitely slower to write than the simpler, faster, and more direct conversational prose. And frankly, I’m not out to get a Pulizer. I just want to entertain people. 😉

Trying to write clever phrases will only slow you down and make the scene slower to read. Keep it simple. Your writing speed will increase, and the readers will eat your stories up much faster too.

12. Knowing “it can be done” is a great motivator

Before really diving into the self-publishing world, I lived under the impression that writing a novel a year is quite respectable. Given that I spent +/- 3 years on my first novel, it sure seemed like a professional, fast output speed.

Then I joined KBoards. And OMG – some self-published writers write & publish up to 30 novels a year! Full length novels! Under several pen-names!! They have a daily output of 10-15K and up to 4K/hour speeds! It’s absolutely mind-blowing!

Even though I can’t even dream of reaching those speeds, knowing it’s possible to write good stories that fast really made a difference. Sometimes the glass ceiling we believe is above us is all that’s keeping us from reaching higher.

13. Life doesn’t care about your writing time

Last but not least, when you start having a writing routine and creating new words daily, you will realize that life will frequently get in the way. Every activity that’s done daily will sooner or later be interrupted by events, holidays, family emergencies, and other things. Life, in general, doesn’t give a shit about your priorities. That’s why you have to be your biggest supporter and prioritize writing anew each time you get interrupted.

It’s very easy, even for experienced writers with consistent writing routines already in place, to get thrown off track. All it takes is one major “incident” to push writing to the last spot on your to do list. It’s important — once that incident is dealt with — to push it right back up to the top. Every single time.

 

While speed certainly isn’t everything, and it will always take second place after quality, in the increasingly competitive self-publishing world speed is of the essence. I read a lot about how to increase my speed, and tried a lot of different approaches, but the only thing that remained true — and will always stay true — is this:

If you care about writing, you need to invest in your writing process as much as into your stories. And writing faster is an important part of that.

 

So — what’s your position on writing speed? Have you tried tracking your progress to increase your speed? What’s you comfort zone in terms of fiction output (per day, year,…)?

I love seeing how other writers are tackling the putting-words-to-paper part of the writing deal!

29 Replies to “13 Things I Learned About Writing Faster”

  1. My writing group is invaluable. They have found aspects of my writing I never would have, and I can afford them. Some “editors” want thousands of dollars to edit. That’s a lot of sales to breakeven for a self publisher. That said, at 20 pages every two weeks, it slows down the process. Working steadily, it has taken a year to get out this last novel, Time’s Equation, But I feel all the eyes on it has made it a stronger book. And…they have kept me from putting off my writing and procrastinating. I know that I have a submission deadline and I better have my work ready to turn in to them.

    As usual, you have great ideas and thoughtful comments. Best of luck with your new book and write, write, write.

    Like

    1. That’s true, the more eyes you can get on your work, the better. Of course, an editor has other skills than authors usually do, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay thousands of dollars to get the best result.
      I’m thinking about finding a critique group for my future series (not this trilogy), but for the moment, I’m super happy with my editor, even if he costs me quite a bit. I learn a ton of things from him, and that makes it worthwhile, even though I doubt I’ll break even any time soon. 😛

      Thanks for the kind wishes, Sheron! Wish you the best of luck as well! 🙂

      Like

  2. Great piece. Thanks so much for the tips. I really, really need to prioritise my writing more diligently. Discovering Twitter recently has not helped one bit!
    I’ve actually been using NaNoWriMo this year to edit a WIP because I do find having some kind of deadline or goal really gets my butt into gear and stuff gets done. But I do need to sort out something outside of that. I’ve written two manuscripts – one about 80K and the other is a bit of a monster at 200K and they have no doubt taken years longer than they should have!

    Like

    1. Thanks, Danielle! Glad you liked the post.

      Having a deadline or a set rhythm of working (such as what NaNo can help you develop) is really helpful! I can’t emphasize it enough how important it is to have a regular rhythm, even if it’s not daily. If you write regularly, and if you prioritize writing before other things, you’re already miles ahead of most other writers.

      Good luck with your editing! Sounds like you have some work ahead of you.
      My manuscript for The Deep Link initially had ~160K, first time I considered it finished. Then I rolled my sleeves up and dove in to trim down all the unnecessary fluff and ended up with 120K. Then I gave it to my editor, and it went down some more to 100K. And I couldn’t be happier about it! 😀

      Like

  3. Force yourself to write more than you’re comfortable with, and you’ll burn out fast.
    I can’t write in the mornings, so I settle down to write in the evening, and leave enough time to get my 5k a day done. But if I write more than that, I lose the passion and the interest. Then I have to take a break.
    I do a detailed plan, but not so much that writing becomes a chore.
    A writing group is no substitute for a competent, well qualified editor. Always check their credentials and get a sample before you commit to the whole book. It will cost a lot, if you want a decent job done, and make sure you get a full set of edits done (copyedits, content edits and final edits).
    Or you could go the publisher route.

    Like

    1. Burnout is a real danger, I agree, but in order to know where your limit is, you have to first test it out. Each of us has their own ideal writing time and process. It’s in our best interest to figure out what exactly it is, and how much we can push ourselves to achieve within our comfortable zone. That’s what finding and refining your process is all about – that sweet spot. 🙂

      Thanks for dropping in to comment, Lynne!

      Like

  4. Hey there. 🙂 I arrived here via ‘The Passive Voice’ … I write in 30 minute bursts, due to physical limitations. (I have to get up and stretch out my knees, hips, etc) I try and get 8 of ’em (the bursts, not the knees!) per day, and succeed about 1/3 of the time. Hoping to up my percentages in the new year.
    I do like #6. I tend to use my get-up-and-move time for thinky stuff.

    Like

    1. Writing in bursts (or sprints, or Pomodoros, or whatever) is super helpful. Those timed breaks — especially if you do some stretching or any kind of physical activity — really jumpstart your creativity and keep your fingers going! 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by to comment!

      Like

  5. Hi Veronica–found this post via Passive Voice, too, and am so glad I did. Just published my 3rd novel, and it’s taken me about a year to do each one. I would dearly love to do at least a couple of novellas in between novels if I can’t manage two novels per year, and I’ve set 2016 as my Year of Writing More (without tanking the quality).

    Your list hits all the main points I’ve discovered from my own analysis of the writing-output problem. #6 is my most difficult one, hands down. There’s so many different ways a scene can be developed, a character can choose to act or not act, that MAKING A DECISION is so difficult. It’s as if I explore as I go–and that sucks up more time than all the social media and household to-do lists combined!

    Therefore, since I’ve decided (wow!) that the micro-decision-making is what’s slowing down my output, I will do a more thorough job of outlining and/or a more mindful job of thinking through what I want the next scene or chapter to do before I sit down to write. Hopefully I can train my brain to get with this new program!

    Thanks for writing this post–I think you’ve managed to put things in such a way that will jiggle loose whatever’s stuck in my writing process!

    Like

    1. Thanks for stopping by to comment, Meg!

      I’m glad you found my post useful. Whatever helps us get our act together and start “producing” good quality fiction consistently and fast enough to be fit for the indie competition, is a great help. Sketching out scenes before writing them has been immensely helpful to me. I’m sure it will boost your productivity too!

      Having a clear overview and tracking your progress are also important to getting faster & more organized. I shared my project organization spreadsheet because it was such a great help. You can download it for free, if you like it. I hope it’s useful too!

      I wish you the best of luck & much stamina for the coming year. I’ll be updating the blog with further tips & tricks I learn along the way. I’d love to hear how you’re doing, too. 🙂

      Like

  6. Hi Veronica, Add me to those who found you via PG. Love this post filled with practical, do-able advice!

    I researched writing fast for my post today at Anne R. Allen’s blog. Here’s what I found:

    Speed kills. Or does it?

    Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond thrillers in three months.

    Frederick Forsyth wrote The Day of the Jackal in 35 days.

    Muriel Spark wrote The Prime Of Miss Jean Brody in one month.

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote The Gambler in 26 days while also writing Crime and Punishment (and helping his wife with the dishes).

    Wishing you a productive and pleasure New Year!

    Like

    1. Hi Ruth! I love your posts & Anne’s, so I’m stoked you took a minute to comment on my blog! 🙂 Glad you liked it.

      And yes – many awesome books were written very fast, and some very prolific writers always write super fast (like King). Speed was proven to have no detrimental effect on quality if the writer knows what they’re doing, and the story itself is sound.

      Wish you a great start into the New Year!

      Like

  7. I say write fast and hard. I liked the idea of the place markers – I’ve never done that but I can see it would be really helpful, so I think I’ll definitely implement that.

    And I totally agree about the conversational prose. Literary prose can take your breath away but I prefer breathing readers personally.

    Nice post. Thanks.
    Annie

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    1. Thanks for stopping by to comment, Anita! 🙂

      Yup, placeholders are awesome for those moments when your memory goes on strike, or when you just don’t feel like writing a particular snippet that absolutely belongs there. After the “flow” ends and you get your words in, you can go back and fill in, and it usually only takes a few minutes. But if you’d interrupt yourself, you’d lose way more time.

      Good luck with your speed increasing efforts! And your writing, of course. And happy new year!

      Like

  8. “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
    Love it!
    This is a great post. I agree about separating the decision-making from the typing. That stops the blank page death stare! Yet I find my writing often has a mind of its own and my “decisions” are not right once I’m on the battlefield (as you put it).

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  9. Excellent post to start off the new year with! I struggle with pretty much every one of your points—and my agent will back me up on that! I am printing this out and WILL employ your suggestions in 2016. Looking forward to a more productive writing year!

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    1. Thanks Karen! I hope you’ll be able to easily mold the things I talked about to fit your own schedule and needs — and reap all the awesome benefits of being organized. There’s no one-fits-all formula, of course, but some things really do apply to most anyone so long as they’re sensibly integrated into that writer’s life.

      I wish you the best of luck and plenty of stamina to make 2016 your best year yet! 🙂

      Like

  10. Thank you so much for this post. I have hit a few obstacles and have been trying to overcome the little voices that pull me away from writing. This post is the advice I have needed. Thank you.

    Your books look wildly interesting. I have put them in my “to read” list.

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  11. Great tips Veronica. I tend to find that a morning walk helps get my thoughts in order before writing. Mornings are my best time to write as everything is ‘fresh’ in my mind and I try (!) to keep away from distractions. I always considered myself a slow writer, but I completed NaNoWriMo last year (boy does that sound weird, when it was only a few short months ago). My personal best was writing 10,000 words in two days, so working to a deadline really helped and made me push myself even further.

    I look forward to hearing more about your efforts in the coming weeks and I wish you a happy and productive new year! 🙂

    Like

    1. Thanks, Debbie! I’m glad you found my post(s) useful!

      Mornings are a tricky thing — to some, they’re the best and most energetic time of day, to others they’re a torture to be avoided at all costs. Hehe. I find it very motivating for the rest of the day if I get to do anything productive writing-related in the morning, be it planning the writing for the day or actually getting in some wordcount. It makes all the difference sometimes, if I’ll be procrastinating that day or having a really awesome production. 😉

      I wish you the best of luck this year! I’m sure you’ll increase your output if you try some of the things I tried as well.

      Like

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