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:
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!