Most of us don’t have the luxury of spending years and years penning our next literary masterpiece. Multiple writing assignments, looming deadlines, and . . . well . . . life in general tend to kick our butts on a daily basis. How is a writer to manage all these things? Writing faster is the most obvious solution, but it is much easier said than done.
Here are seven ways to speed up your writing. Hopefully, these tips will be encouraging and inspiring rather than intimidating and daunting!
1. Make Writing a Priority
Is writing a hobby or a career? If it’s a hobby, you probably don’t feel a sense of urgency. If it is a career, you must finish that piece of writing, or the kids won’t be able to eat dinner. If you want to be a writer, be a writer. Make it a priority in your life. John Updike, who averaged a bestselling book each year, lamented, “I think that maybe what young writers have lost is the sense of writing as a trade.”
2. Don’t Panic
Sometimes, the perfect piece of prose is elusive. Writer’s block isn’t an urban myth. It can happen. In these instances, don’t panic. Instead, trust in your abilities. You’ve done it before; you can do it again.
If you need more encouragement, Jack Kerouac is willing to advise you: “You’re a Genius all the time.” He wrote On the Road in just three weeks. With such a short turnaround, he obviously didn’t have time to sit and stew about what to write. He just did it. You should too.
3. Get in the Zone
You must have a designated place to work. If you think you can pull out your laptop and accomplish anything while the kids are running amuck all around you, you are sorely mistaken. Go into a quiet room, close the door, and eliminate all distractions. Similarly, do what must be done to get you in the writing mood. Do you need soft music playing in the background? Do you need a cup of coffee close by?
If all else fails, follow Muriel Spark’s advice—get a cat. She says,
The serenity of the cat will gradually affect you so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost.
Ms. Spark penned The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in under a month. Apparently she knows what she is talking about.
4. Race Against the Clock
After you have gotten yourself in the proper mindset, don’t risk losing it. Set a time limit for your writing. Tell yourself you won’t think of any other tasks for, say, 25 minutes. You’ll be surprised by how much you can accomplish when you focus on a single task for a designated amount of time.
A great tool is MyTomatoes. This online timer will help hold you accountable. Set the clock and don’t stop writing until it dings.
5. Don’t Be a Perfectionist
Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning freelance journalist who has written for a variety of national and international publications, including the New York Times. In a recent blog post, she noted the following:
Perfection is a beast most of us will have to grapple with and I’m no exception. Even though I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words and should, by now, know better, I still expect perfection to flow from my fingertips each time I sit down to write.
Fortunately for all of us, there is this wonderful process called revision. Don’t spend an hour writing the first paragraph. Let your thoughts flow freely. Then, come back and edit.
6. Edit Your Writing by Reading It Aloud
After you have written everything you must, go back and edit it. The best way to catch errors is to read aloud. Christopher Hitchens always read his pieces aloud: “If something is worth hearing or listening to, it’s very probably worth reading.” And, it obviously worked wonders. He was able to compose a column for Slate in a mere 20 minutes—the day after an intense chemotherapy session.
7. Do All Your Research at Once
Nearly all writers face the same temptation: mindless Internet surfing. After all, the Internet, with all its wonderfulness, is just a click away.
However, mindless Internet surfing is one of the easiest ways to waste time. Instead of facing your temptation five times an hour, deal with it once. As you write, you will certainly come across topics that will need a bit more research. When you arrive at these places, leave an X or an underscore to mark your spot. After you have written everything, address all your issues with a single research session.
John Boyne advises writers not to get overwhelmed by the quest to find facts:
I’m aware of the importance of research, of making decisions regarding what is and isn’t important to keep absolutely accurate. You’re writing a novel, after all, a work of fiction.
Mr. Boyne wrote The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in two days. I’d say his strategy seems to work!
Follow these suggestions from the literary greats and you’re bound to make the writing process quicker, more efficient and more enjoyable.