My first novel took me 6 years to write. My second (almost ready) has taken 3 years. So I’m getting faster! My goal is to write my third novel in 10 months. And for the first time, I believe it’s possible. One of my goals this year is to learn how to write faster, and then to do it.
I’ve experimented with everything in this article. And all of it works. Now I only have to follow my own advice! I hope by writing this article I will.
To fill my bookshelves faster I need to write faster!
I’ve met people who believe that nobody can write more than several hundred words an hour—let alone thousands. I’ve had people laugh aloud at the suggestion of it. Of course, many people do.
If you hold this belief, then it will be impossible to write fast. I spoke to one writer here in Taipei who usually writes a few hundred words a day. When I asked if he’d ever written 10,000 (partly as a joke), he told me that nobody could write 10,000 words in a day. However, I have, and I know others who have done the same—at least sometimes.
My usual word count is more like 2,000 a day. I can’t estimate how many words when I’m revising a draft. In that case I usually count the number of pages I’ve revised, or how many hours I plan to spend revising.
This is one of the most important tips for how to write faster. Feel excited about what you’re writing, and follow your emotional flow, it’s your internal guidance system. If you become bored with your story (or anything else you’re writing), you’ll slow down. And if you feel bored with it, other people will feel bored reading it, too.
Follow the emotion—avoid dullness.
If you do lose enthusiasm when writing, it’s possible you’re tired (take a break). But if your story really has become boring, stop writing and trace your it back to the last point it was interesting. Then start again from there, but this time follow your enthusiasm, even if it takes you in an unexpected direction—don’t care too much about anything else. Cut what’s dull.
If that means you have nothing left, then either this particular scene isn’t needed, or the topic isn’t big enough to make into an article—make it a tweet instead.
Visualize it first. Outline it second. Then visualize it again. Think about the scene/chapter/article before you write it. Think where it’s all going. If you’re on the bus/metro/train or stuck in a traffic jam, don’t get bored, visualize the scene. Is it exciting, does it draw you in, is it emotionally satisfying? And it’s the same for an article or chapter of a nonfiction book. Imagine what you want to say in each part.
Then outline it—unless you’re a dedicated pantser—in that case just write it. But along with many others, I find outlines useful. I didn’t outline for my first novel. Never again.
And when you outline your scenes, avoid woolly thinking. The hero + a generalized situation is not an outline. Be specific.
This is important. Cut all distractions! Turn off the internet. Know what your distractions are and find a way to avoid them. I didn’t believe that I had that many distractions until I started keeping a log of exactly what I did during the day.
I had a lot of distractions!
Cutting the clutter from your desk (and life) is a part of this, too.
My father's skull sitting on my desk keeps me writing faster, too!
I’ve also experimented with these—very basic points—but not so basic that everyone will do them. And they have helped me speed up and feel better at the same time.
Sleep’s really important for our mental health. Not just the number of hours slept at night (here’s an interesting Q/A with sleep researcher Matthew Walker suggesting 7-9 hours is optimal. Experimenting with my sleeping patterns has affected my productivity in the first two of the following points.
First, getting enough sleep makes me more productive as a writer in general. I’ve kept a record of my writing productivity over several months, and the difference between the times I have a good night’s sleep, and the times my sleep’s disturbed is clear.
Second, taking naps helps, too. I’m much more alert after a nap (give me 10 minutes and a cup of tea) and find a second boost of creativity when writing—I’d always considered myself a morning person, but am now reassessing how true this is.
Third, taking regular breaks helps increase writing productivity. And makes you live longer—maybe :) I take off about 5-10 minutes to walk, stretch, exercise a little every 50 or 60 minutes. I speed up after doing this, and the few minutes lost are a gain.
I know that many people consider sleeping and taking breaks to be a weakness. As far as I know, humans are the only species to care about this. I love the comfort of sleeping and resting when I’m tired, but it also increases the quantity and quality of my writing.
Although it sounds strange, eating and exercising help you write faster and better. I’ve learnt this from experimentation on what works and what doesn’t, and by noticing which foods make me clear-headed and those that don’t.
Eat well (you decide what that means, there’s a lot of information out there—for me it’s more fresh food, less processed food, and less sugar) and you’ll feel more alert. Try it!
A second point about food is that it’s hard to focus on writing when you’re hungry. If you keep thinking about food, it may be better to eat an early meal and then write. This doesn’t mean munching through packets of chocolate biscuits/cookies while you’re writing!
Exercise is good for creativity and clear thought. Again, I know this from my own experience—experiment with this over a thirty day period to see the difference.
Years ago, I chose the types of physical activities I most enjoyed and thought I could keep learning from when I got older. See the picture below. The choice I made also relates to my fantasy worlds—but that’s another article.
Me practicing mizong in Taipei
I hope some of these ideas help give you ideas on how to write faster. As I said, I’ve written the article to help myself write faster. And none of this is theory—it’s what I use every day to speed up my writing.
I’d like to add a final point. Balance is important, and I don’t think speed is everything. For me it’s important now, but some of you may have already reached a optimum balance between writing speed and the rest of your life. I’m still working on it.
If you have any tips to speed up, please add them in the comments at the end, or send them to me via the contact form.