The ability to write faster is critical for professional writers and amateur writers alike, and it’s something I’ve struggled with my entire career. There are days when I can hit 1000 words per hour and others where I’ve been lucky to reach 200 words per hour. This article is intended to give you actionable steps that are intended to help you consistently write faster starting today.
You can write faster if you follow this simple formula:
- Research before you type a single word
- Eliminate distraction (especially the internet)
- Ignore the voice of doubt in your head
- Don’t edit until you’re finished with the entire first draft
Sure, all of that is easier said than done, but it doesn’t matter if you’re an author, screenwriter, biographer, copywriter, blogger, or a student—you can write faster if you follow these 19 proven techniques that will help you write faster today.
1) Be Consistent
Having a muse is a romantic notion, particularly when it comes to writing. Sure, there are days when I’ve been inspired and I was able to hit 10,000 quality words in just 5 hours.
But I can count those days on one hand. Here’s the truth: if you want to be a professional writer you won’t last long if you sit around waiting for inspiration to hit before you write.
Without that inspiration, you tend to get distracted by email, social media, and streaming video. Or worse, you end up cleaning your house or apartment.
String a few unproductive days in a row and self-doubt creeps. You’ll start to feel like a failure and wonder if you’ll ever be able to write again.
That’s why consistency is one of the keys to a successful writing career. Don’t wait for a fickle muse. Instead, carve out a consistent writing schedule and unless there is a true emergency, don’t let anything keep you from sitting down and writing.
2) Research Before You Start Writing
If you want to write faster you need to improve your efficiency. A key to efficient writing is eliminating distraction, and you can do that by conducting your research before you write a single word.
For instance, if your characters are going to climb Mount Everest, you’d likely need to know things like:
- How long people typically train before they attempt to climb
- The kind of gear they’ll need
- Weight of an average pack
- How many people have died during the climb
- What they do if someone dies during the climb
- When altitude sickness kicks in
- The kinds of food they can eat
- The closest city
- How tall is Mount Everest?
- Is Everest the tallest Himalayan mountain?
Anyway, you get the picture. This doesn’t need to be a long process. In fact, you can probably find all of the above in a Wikipedia article or even in a YouTube video.
And sure, you might not use some (or even most) of the information you find but that depth of knowledge will help you write with greater confidence, and confidence breeds speed.
Besides, it’s better to know too much and maintain your workflow than to not know enough and have to start and stop. That kills speed.
3) Create an Outline
Admittedly, outlining isn’t for everyone. I have a friend who hates to outline because if she already knows the story she gets bored and then she doesn’t want to write her book. It works for her and she has the sales to prove it, but there are some dangers with that theory.
The first is that you can write yourself into a corner and end up wasting days, weeks, or even months with re-writes. But that’s not what this article is about.
Outlines help you write faster because you don’t have to stop and think and about setting details, where your characters are at in their personal journeys, or how what you’re writing will fit in with the next scene.
When you shift from your unconscious mind to consciously worrying about what happens next, your writing speed will suffer.
4) Visualize Your Scene Before You Start Writing
Whenever I feel frustration setting in, I know my word count is going to suffer. A technique I use to offset that frustration is to imagine that I’m shooting a movie instead of writing a book.
The first thing I do is select the perfect song for the scene to set the mood. I’ll pull it up on Spotify and play it on repeat.
Then I’ll turn off all the lights, lay down, close my eyes and watch the scene unfold like a movie. If the scene doesn’t play the way I want it to, I’ll make the actors in my mind try it again, but with new dialogue or even new motivations.
Then, once I’m happy with the performance, I’ll rush over to my laptop and start writing.
5) Disconnect from the Internet
There’s no arguing that the internet the most efficient way to research for your book in the history of the world. However, without discipline, you can find yourself in click holes that last for hours.
The very purpose of algorithms for YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook is to give you the exact content you’re looking for so you never leave. Don’t fall into the trap.
Disconnect from the internet before you start writing. If you don’t, the odds of reaching your word count goals for the day aren’t going to be good.
6) Turn Your Phone Off
Yes, our phones have become our primary conduit to access the internet, but the main culprit I’m worried about with this one is texting. It’s easy to get distracted by the “ping” sound or even the buzzing vibration whenever a new text comes in.
I mean, how many people have you seen texting and driving on the freeway? If people can get distracted by meaningless texts when they can kill someone on the roads, how much easier is it to get distracted when you’re trying to write?
7) Turn Spell Check and Grammar Check Off
Eliminating distraction is clearly a primary theme for this article, and that includes getting rid of those red lines that pop up when you’re writing. You know, the ones that let you know there’s a typo or that you’ve made a grammar or punctuation mistake in your manuscript.
If you want to write fast, I recommend turning those features off. You’re going to edit your manuscript eventually anyway, so why worry about typos or grammar at this stage of the game? It’s only going to slow you down.
8) Write with Your Bladder Full
Don’t believe me? This one is backed by science. According to Iris Blandon-Gitlin, Ph.D., who is an associate professor of psychology at California State University, Fullerton, it’s about impulse control.
Her research showed that there are benefits to your brain when you have a full bladder because it helps you resist sudden urges.
Triggering self-restraint can definitely keep you more focused as a writer—and can lead to faster typing and greater word counts. Just don’t hold it too long, as one of the side effects could be a urinary tract infection.
9) Do a 15 Minute Writing Exercise Before You Start Writing Your Manuscript
Self-doubt is one of the culprits when it comes to slow writing. In fact, that voice of doubt in your head can be downright debilitating. I’ve found one way to get rid of that self-doubt is to start the day with a 15-minute writing exercise.
Artists do it all the time. In fact, when I took life drawing classes in college we would do daily warm ups to limber up and get the creative juices flowing.
I’ve found the most effective way to do this is to use a random writing prompt, hit the timer, and then write as fast as you can for fifteen minutes.
The writing prompt is key, because unlike your current manuscript you aren’t invested in the outcome. That means your words won’t be too precious and you’ll be free to write in a stream of consciousness.
Once you’re fifteen minutes is up, jump right into your manuscript and keep that stream of consciousness flowing. And whatever you do, don’t go back and read what you wrote yesterday. Just start writing without giving it too much thought.
If you want to find out more about writing prompts, I wrote an article about them that you can find here.
10) Set a Word Count Goal
Setting a word count goal is one of the key tactics that you can implement to improve your writing speed. Each day I set hourly word count goals that are both attainable and challenging.
I want to push myself to improve, but I’m careful not to set a goal that I know I won’t hit. It’s hard enough for authors to keep the voice of doubt at bay, and I don’t need another reason to feel like a failure.
Like it or not, when we’re dejected we tend to write slower. That’s why I’d rather accomplish a challenging goal and feel great about what I’ve done that to feel like a failure because I missed an impossible goal.
11) Listen to Music Without Words
If you write at home or a coffee shop—or even if you write at a library, you know that distractions are all around us.
Sure, a little white noise is great and can drown out the thoughts in your head so you’re free to write from your subconscious, but too much distraction can slow your writing down.
I’ve found that even if I’ve heard a song a thousand times, if it has words I get distracted and I can’t write.
Instead, I prefer jazz, classical, and movie soundtracks without words. The music sets the mood while it distracts my thoughts so I’m free to write.
12) Write in Sprints
Sitting down to write for eight hours straight is a lot like looking up at a mountaintop before you start the ascent. It can be overwhelming, and it’s nearly impossible to write fast when you’re overwhelmed. One way to overcome that problem is to write in sprints.
The theory was popularized by Francesco Cirillo with the Pomodoro Technique. His idea was to break down projects into 2-minute intervals that are separated by short breaks.
Each interval is called a Pomodoro (the Italian word for tomato), which was coined from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to track the intervals.
For me, 25 minutes isn’t enough time to get into a flow, so I break my writing sprints into 50-minute intervals, and then I reward myself with 10-minute breaks.
I’ll stretch, take a walk, grab a drink, or even do a little online research before my next sprint.
13) Limit Yourself to No More Than Four Hours Writing Each Day
I held a toxic belief for many years. I thought that I had failed if I didn’t sit down in front of a computer and not only write for eight hours each day with only a short lunch break, but that I had to hit a minimum of 5,000 quality words.
Do you know how many times I accomplished that? Zero. Which means for over five years I felt like a failure each and every day.
Feeling like a failure is debilitating and when that feeling builds, your writing speed can plummet. I was so depressed that there were days when I was lucky to hit 500 words in a twelve-hour day.
Then I had a breakthrough. I decided to challenge the idea that my value as an author was tied to an arbitrary number like eight hours, and instead of time spent writing I started focusing on output and production.
I switched to writing no more than three hours a day and targeted 2,500 words.
The results were astonishing. I either hit or exceeded my daily word count and I was able to answer emails, work on marketing, and spend more time with my family—all without feeling an ounce of guilt or self-loathing.
And I was still able to complete a quality first draft of a 90,000-word manuscript in two months.
14) Don’t Worry About Facts in the First Draft
It doesn’t matter how much preparation and research you do before you start writing, you’re going to discover that you’re missing critical facts for your story.
You might need to know the average temperature in Phoenix on Independence Day, the number of shark attacks in Florida last year, or the #1 song on the Billboard Top 100 on your protagonist’s birthday.
Don’t. Stop. Writing.
Ignore the temptation to open Google and look it up—no matter how quick the search might be. If you want to write faster, you need to stay locked in as you write.
Just throw in a placeholder and tell yourself that you’ll go back and fill in the gaps during your 10-minute break at the end of your writing sprint, or later that day when it’s time to switch gears and answer email or market your books.
15) Give Yourself Permission to Write Poorly
First drafts are supposed to stink. Period. So why torture yourself with the expectation that you’re going to write a perfect book without having to go back and edit?
It’s a ridiculous expectation that can never be met and it will only slow your writing down. By expecting to write a terrible first draft, you undermine the voice of self-doubt in your head and that frees you up to write faster.
16) Don’t Edit as You Go
If you want to improve the pace of your writing, stop editing as you go. We’ve discussed that first drafts are supposed to stink.
If that’s true, wait until you’re 100% done with your first draft before you go back and make edits. If you can pull this one off, you can shed weeks (and maybe even months) off your writing schedule.
17) Skip Ahead if You Get Stuck
Some people are linear thinkers, and that’s okay. I’m wired to feel like I’m cheating if I jump ahead in the story. I tell myself that I’m lazy or stupid because I can’t come up with something to write.
That’s a lie.
My value as an author has nothing to do with the inability to write a particular scene or chapter. So, I’ve given myself permission to jump ahead to another part of the story if I’m struggling. I’d rather hit my overall word count goal than to perpetuate the believe that I’m a failure.
When you eliminate the stress, you subconscious is free to help you solve problems. That’s why I typically don’t go for much more than a day or two before inspiration hits (usually in the shower or on my morning walk) and I’m able to complete the scene.
18) Improve Your Typing Speed
Typing was one of the most important classes that I took in high school (apparently, it’s called “Keyboarding” today). It taught me how to type somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-70 words per minute through repetition and practice.
There are tons of resources on the internet that can help you improve your typing speed as well:
19) Report Your Progress Daily
Accountability helps drive performance, so I send a daily word count report to an accountability partner. Failure makes my teeth itch, so having an accountability partner creates positive peer pressure that drives me to meet my goals.
Sure, I could lie. After all, I don’t actually send her what I’m writing. But I don’t, because in the end lying only hurts me.
The stress that’s triggered by the guilt slows my writing down, so I’ve found that it’s easier to be honest when I don’t hit my goals than to try and hide it.
How Long Should a Chapter Be? Though many people believe the average middle grade novel is 40,000-55,000 words, that is not a steadfast rule. Books like the Spiderwicke Chronicles and Chronicles of Narnia are in the 20,000-30,000 word range, where Mysterious Benedict Society and the some of the Harry Potter books are well over 90,000 words.
How Many Chapters Should a Book Have? There is no rule that governs the number of chapters in a book, and that number varies widely by author. James Patterson is famous for chapters that are often 1-3 pages in length, whereas J.R.R. Tolkien has published chapters that are over 40 pages. Word count is the only barometer that publishers use to measure the length of a book.