The question was posed to me the other day: Are you a fast writer? No. No, I’m not, I answered.
From my first term paper in college, when I became aware of such a metric, I was sure that I was slower than just about everyone else. I had this sense, though no evidence, observed or tangible, that I was making the process way more labor-intensive than it needed to be.
After many years of insecurity about it, I realized, what does it matter? So I’m a slow writer. I’ve never used it as an excuse, never missed a deadline. I simply learned to plan accordingly. A lot of that comes down to organization. If I have a clear idea of what I’m writing about and a precise plan for how I’m going to execute it, the actual act of writing becomes the easiest—and, often, the fastest—part of the process.
Basically, worry less about becoming a faster writer and, instead, focus on becoming a more efficient writer. What follows are a handful of tips gleaned from my own practice, some I’ve been using from the start, others, I began implementing only within the last few months. Writers tend to lapse into tried-and-true patterns, but it’s critical to make a conscious effort to continue evolving. An open mind is always rewarded.
First, Straighten up your Desktop
You can’t expect a fluid thought process when your desktop’s become a dumping ground. It’s not only clogging up your workflow, but it’s also slowing your computer. So, start populating your desktop with folders and make sure that every single file finds a home in one of them. How you choose to name them—by project, file type, or even frequency of use—is entirely up to you. It only needs to make sense to you.
Once you start sorting your files, you’ll get an immediate sense of what’s essential and what’s extraneous. This is not the time to go soft. Keep only what you need. The amount of weight lifted off your shoulders is directly proportional to the amount of time it takes to empty your recycling bin.
Another reason to keep your files to a minimum: You’re going to rename them. This is going to make them much easier to search for. (The folders don’t always work as a quick reference guide.) Follow your folder titles. That’ll help keep everything simple and aligned. For instance, I’m titling this post “TWM_Guest Blog Post_01_0118,” designating it as my first January 2018 blog post for Trinity Web Media, and saving it in a folder labeled “Trinity Web Media.”
When your desktop’s squared away, set up a backup on Google Drive, Dropbox, or the like. And get into the habit of uploading new files as you go. By doing it daily, as opposed to, say, monthly, the act will quickly become ingrained.
Now For the Writing
My creative process is guided largely by this often-repeated alliteration: Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance. When the time comes to write, I’m only going to write. I’ve already defined my subject, researched it, conducted and transcribed any necessary interviews, and created an outline. (More on that in a moment.) Knowing the heavy lifting’s done lightens the weight of writing. It also focuses me, which, in turn, helps me to feel fast. (Even if I’m not.)
About the outline: Like your sleek, new desktop filing system, tailor the outline to your style. I like to treat mine almost like a first draft. But it can be as basic as section headlines and subheads. The outline is meant to organize your thoughts and research so that you’re not pressed to do so on the fly. Think of each pause as an off-ramp. At best, it leads to a momentary detour. More often, though, it’s a major distraction.
And, schedule a time to write. This ensures that you have control of the environment and the surrounding circumstances—as much as you can, at least. If I block out a Friday morning to write a blog post, I’m considering myself unavailable for everything else over those couple of hours. I won’t even break stride to take a call. I’ve found that in scheduling my writing, it also helps me to prepare mentally. I’m present, I’m motivated, I’m focused. Usually.
Up until a few months ago, when I sat down to write, I almost never got up until I was done. But I came across a blog post by Enchanted Marketing, titled How to Write Faster: 12 Unusual Productivity Hacks, and saw some promise in the suggestion to walk away from a work-in-progress. “When you aren’t writing, your brain still continues thinking about your content,” the post says. “It’s called the diffuse mode of thinking—when you let your mind wander freely.” I still worry about losing momentum, but the few times I tried this, I never lost my impetus. If anything, my writing was probably a bit more concise during my second and third approaches.
Against every instinct, I also began writing, occasionally, before the first cup of coffee kicked in. Caffeine has been my performance enhancing drug of choice for so long, I couldn’t imagine writing a coherent sentence without it. But, “research suggests we’re more creative when we’re at our groggiest,” the post says. So I was willing to try. It’s hard to say whether I was more creative, or if I was even all that creative to begin with, but I was at least happy to find that I could write something, anything, without my heart racing and my hands sweating. I definitely didn’t feel faster. But, again, speed is never a standard that quality writing should be measured by. Every one of us puts enough pressure on ourselves to compound it with time and all its urgency.