How I Learned to ‘Write Fast’

I am a content producing machine.

I laughed out loud the first time someone called me a “prolific” writer. Not because I didn’t agree with them or because I didn’t appreciate the compliment, though.

In all honesty, I knew they were going to follow up with one question: How do you do it? How do you publish a blog post every day? How do you write 60,000 words in a month? HOW IN HECK are you planning on writing one million words between January and December?

I laughed — still laugh — because I still don’t know exactly how to answer this question. Underneath that, though, I kind of worry about the implications a serious answer would provide to an audience largely made up of people who legitimately want to know how I do it so they can, too.

Here’s the thing: Writing is, first and foremost, a skill. You are not born knowing how to write well or equipped with the means to produce work at a reasonable pace. You may be a person who develops this skill more quickly than others, but never forget that we ALL start in the exact same place: Knowing nothing about writing and having to learn and grow as we go.

I never want the fact that I am a content production “machine” to imply that everyone should be that way or that you have to write quickly if you want to be successful. Everyone writes at their own pace and everyone progresses through their respective writing “careers” at different speeds. If you ever want to develop and/or refine a skill, especially in writing, it should always be for the purpose of self-improvement, never as a means of comparing yourself to someone else.

How did I train myself to write 25,000 words per week on average — not EVERY week, but certainly more weeks than most people could manage? There are plenty of culprits to blame. NaNoWriMo, for one. You have to write about two thousand words every day for 30 days straight in November if you’re going to give yourself a good enough buffer to manage 50K in one month.

I also do some pop culture news writing, which always requires a fast turnaround and leaves zero room for mistakes. You learn to get your point across quickly and you learn to do it well.

There’s also the fact that I just have a lot of things to do in any given day, and I don’t have three hours to spend on a blog post every evening. If I can crank out something phenomenal in 20 minutes, that leaves more room for other projects and commitments. So I always aim to have a post written in less than a half hour on weeknights.

Writing fast, in all honesty, allows me to live more. I spend less time in front of my laptop and more time venturing out from behind my screen because I get my work done faster. It’s just how I prefer to do it.

I imagine there are plenty of people rolling their eyes right now because writing “fast” seems neither ideal nor necessary. I am not ashamed to admit that sometimes I do produce a piece of writing very quickly and am not as careful as I should be about proofreading. That is a major weakness of mine and I’m working on it.

Is writing quickly necessary, though? In some cases, yes. News writing, for example. When I’m commenting on a news story for Culturess, I usually have less than two hours to turn around a story. There isn’t time to take my time! You have to learn to be careful as well as quick.

If you don’t write quickly, you’re not at some kind of disadvantage and you shouldn’t feel pressured to write differently if you don’t want to. If it takes you three years to write a book because you write slowly, but it’s a gosh dang fantastic book by the end of those three years, then YOU DO YOU!

And if you do write quickly, don’t let anyone shame you for that.

As long as writing quickly never compromises the quality of your work, there is nothing wrong with being able to write five articles or more a day, or 50,000+ words in a month. Just because other people write faster than you does not necessarily mean they are taking shortcuts or doing something wrong. Doing something differently than someone else does not mean one person is right and the other is not.

If your tendency to write slowly frustrates you and you do want to learn to write faster, the best way I can suggest training yourself to do this is giving yourself a word or page count goal each day or time you sit down to write. Make sure it’s something you can definitely manage in a day — whether that be 25 words or 2,500.

Then, stick with that goal even as it gets a little easier to accomplish. Stick with it for a week, then two, then three. You may notice as the weeks go on that it’s not taking as much time for you to hit your word minimum for the day as it used to. There are many possible reasons for this, but one major factor is that your goal has become less intimidating. You’re less distracted by the possibility that you won’t accomplish it and you’re suddenly able to focus completely on your writing, which allows you to get it done faster.

Eventually, when this is no longer a challenge, you can increase your word goals in small stages.

Is word or page count always a good way to measure writing progress? Of course not. The quality of your work, I’ll repeat, is always going to be the most important thing. But if you write often enough, and stay consistent with it, you will improve gradually over time.

And if you don’t — well, to put it simply, some people just don’t write fast. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you try all of the above and you still feel like you’re going slow, just accept that as your “normal” and run with it. You don’t have to write quickly to be successful. All you really have to do, in the beginning, is write.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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3 thoughts on “How I Learned to ‘Write Fast’

  1. I write quickly for work–lots of solicitation and marketing materials for higher ed, mostly–but I write slowly, when writing fiction. I keep hoping the former rubs off on the latter, but it might have something to do with the fact I get paid for my marketing writing and haven’t (yet) for fiction. Maybe I should start paying myself to write fiction, and I’d churn it out quicker!?

  2. There are times when I wish my writing created a first draft quicker. Your idea of finishing something in a given framework of time sounds like a viable option for me.

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