Figuring out how to write fast is the first step to bashing out your novel draft in record time. But how do those fast writers do it?
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Full disclosure: I consider myself a fast writer. I’m not saying this to brag. I’m just saying that I’ve put myself through some paces, y’all.
In grad school, I’d regularly leave myself less than 10 hours to write a 20 page paper.
When I worked as a ghost writer, there was usually only one day to get work done in the week because all other days were full of meetings and I’d find myself writing 12,000 words on a Friday.
I used to write four blog posts a week for an obscure local social blog, and I did that in addition to my full-time job.
I have a lot of anxiety, and that means that my pulse is high and I’m good at fidgeting. And what is typing if not finger fidgets for the purpose of communication?
And all of these things? They weren’t just drops in the bucket. They were a way of life from like age 23 until now. So, I’ve spent a lot of time writing fast.
Depending on the day, I can write a lot or a little. It just depends on how I feel about the material. But if I’m in the zone, I hit about 5,000 words an hour. This blog post? Took about 15 minutes.
Again, I’m not saying this to brag. I’m just saying this because I want you to know that you can do it too. So, if you want to learn how to write fast, check out my tips below. They aren’t fun or sexy or quick. But after a few years, you’ll also be a writing machine.These tips aren't sexy or quick fix magic pills. But they will make you a faster writer. Click To Tweet
Before we get too far though, know that I’m officially recommending 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron, and 5,000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox.
How to Write Fast
001: Learn to type.
This is the one that everyone hates. And honestly, when I took the keyboarding class in the sixth grade, and then again my sophomore year of high school, I hated it too.
But here’s the thing: I can type fast because of it. Granted, when I learned it was more of a business typing class, so we learned all about enclosure notation, and our textbook was originally designed for typewriter-wielding secretaries.
(There are times when I shout into the void “I COULDA BEEN A TYPIST” like some folks could’ve been a contender.)
Now, I will say that you don’t have to learn how to type perfectly. Like, I’m pretty sure that I never do the number keys with the correct fingers, and I also know that my hands are way too small to do it right. But you should definitely be using all of your fingers.
Like, if you’re just using your pointers and typing that way? Takes too much damn time.
And real talk — I can’t use a typewriter because I’m so used to using a computer keyboard that when I try to use a typewriter, I go too fast and the metal arms that hold the letters get all tangled up.
But this is all because I know how to move my hands over the keyboard. And knowing that means that I get more words out consistently.
002: Outline your ass off.
The part of writing where you’re just staring at your computer and waiting for words to come is the part of writing where you don’t know what you’re going to write.
That’s why I love outlining. Because I always know where I’m going. Think of outlines as a street map. That’s how you get to your destination. YOU CAN BE YOUR OWN WRITING GPS.
This blog post? Started with an outline.
My master’s thesis project? Started with an outline.
The novel I’m drafting right now? Started with an outline.
To write fast, you need to know where you’re going. And I’m not saying that you should never ponder the meaning of what you’re doing or think about the deeper implications of your characters.
A lot of my prewriting is free writing. Or staring out into space and thinking about characters might approach an issue. I love it. But that’s in the pre-outline phase.
But if you’re trying to bash out a draft so you have something that you can put some meat on, you’re going to need to outline.
I know this is antithetical to the pantser-style, so you may not like this. And that’s totally cool. I’m just saying that if you want to write 5,000 words in an hour and finish drafts faster, you should consider outlining and know that writing by the seat of your pants can potentially lead you to lots and lots of writer’s block.Pro tip: Outline your ass off. #amwriting Click To Tweet
003: Really know what you’re writing.
Okay. So. You’ve got your outline and you’re ready to tackle that draft. Before you put that butt in the chair and your hands on a keyboard, make sure that you know what you’re going to be writing.
This is like taking a look at the map before you head out on your journey. (This is what people used to do before the robot ghosts in our phones told us how to get where we’re going.)
Before it’s time to do some writing, you need to go over that outline. Think about the headspace of your protagonist. Think about all the things going on. Get in that mindset. Become one with the store.
For the record, I also recommend that you set the novel writing mood.
Because that’s where the fast writing really comes from. You have an outline and you know where you’re going with it. You’re in that moment of your story. You actually feel it. And that enables you to put the words out on paper a lot faster.
Novel writing might be the only marathon where you should totally sprint. Here’s why:
Setting a timer for a specific amount of time (I like 15 to 25 minutes) and only writing during that time is a great way to write faster. Because you’re focused in on the task of writing and writing alone, you can really stretch your muscles.
(This is also one of those good writing routines that helps you avoid binge writing.)
This is also the best way to improve your writing speed. Just keep sprinting and pushing yourself to write more and more in the allotted sprint time.
But here’s the catch: During this time, you can’t Google stuff. You can’t look at your outline. You can’t read through all the stuff you wrote before. You’re just writing.
Writing and nothing else.
At first, this is going to be the most demoralizing thing. But once you get the hang of it, you’re really going to see a lot of improvement. So stick with it and record your stats. For each sprint, write down how many words you got and I promise you’re going to see a big change.
005: Backspace is dead to you.
Here’s the thing about writing fast: You have to just rush through it. And if you want to write really fast, you have to get used to not going back. So, the best way to do that is to avoid backspace.
Sure, that leaves some typos in your work, but you’re writing. Not editing.
So, that’s probably the most important part of writing fast. When you’re writing, you’re writing. When you’re editing, you’re editing. And nary the twain shall meet.When you're writing, you're writing. When you're editing, you're editing. And nary the twain shall meet. Click To Tweet
I’m not saying that you can’t still write pretty quick while still maintaining your backspace habit. But I am saying that you can get a lot more writing done if you leave it and just go.
You can always edit the work you’ve done at the end of your sprints, or even update the outline you’ve created to account for any new things you may have added while you were in that zone.
How Do You Write Fast?
What’s your secret to writing fast? What changed the game for you as a writer when it comes to getting words on the page? Hate the idea of writing fast and think it makes you a hack to try to write at anything greater than a tortured pace? Let me know in the comments!
I like this advice. I used to get into that sprinting zone when writing, but anymore I spend too much time thinking, editing, and generally doing things which are not writing fast. I really like the outline advice as well. I’m a pantser, but I do half-ass outlines. II used Scrivener’s built in stuff to help me outline what would happen in each chapter of my short story I’m currently writing and it went way faster than the novel I just finished writing.
That’s awesome, Kenneth! Creating outlines can be a pain, but they’re great for helping you complete a draft.
I’m thinking to myself, I should have thought of that ! You did remind me of some writing tools, which I intend to use again, but for me, I need time management!!! I am hot or cold about it. So pacing steady, regularly, and then daily will be huge. I can freehand faster than typing,. So to write daily, to learning to walk, and then to run, is my #1. Thank you, be well.🤗 Sue , Dyer Brook, Maine
That’s awesome, Sue! It’s so important to know what you need as a writer.
When writing, I ALWAYS make an outline…. It helps me in writing the body without rambling…. My weakness is the rambling!
I also write a short intro and short conclusion which may be changed later…. I just want to keep my thoughts organized!
I think of myself as a pantser but I sometimes like to do broad outlines.
Do you have a post on detailed outlining for novels?