Some writing coaches tell you writing is easy and anyone can do it. I’m not one of those coaches.
Writing is hard. Writing fast is even harder.
It’s not impossible. Just hard. But like most things, it gets easier the more you do it.
I want to help you write faster. But I don’t have a magic pill (sorry, I’m not Morpheus and this isn’t the Matrix).
What I do have are eleven solid strategies to help you write faster.
This isn’t about lowering the quality of your writing. You’re always aiming to write books you can be proud of. But it is about finding your sweet spot, your groove. The conditions and habits that foster faster writing. It’s about getting to your state of flow.
Throughout this article, I reference two helpful books by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990 and Finding Flow; The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life, 1998. Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist, professor, and author who has spent decades studying creativity, happiness, and their interrelatedness.
When we approach our work and creativity with a flow mindset, it shifts our attitude from task-oriented to engaged and purposeful. In Finding Flow; The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life, Csikszentmihalyi shares how life-changing this can be:
This is the state of being where writing feels easier, time flies, and words flow. This won’t happen every time you write. But if you figure out how to get into your zone—and how to get there faster—you’ll minimize the days when writing feels slow and difficult.
To get to that stage, there are things you need to do before you write. while you write, and on a regular basis.
So, here’s a roadmap. We’ll start with preparation.
If Abraham Lincoln understood the value of preparation, so should you. Because, well, Abraham Lincoln (enough said).
I can hear you now:
“But I’ve got a lot to do and don’t feel like spending time to prepare.”
Get out of your feelings (I mean that in a non-bossy way. Maybe) and get real with what’s going to help you write faster.
Preparing before I write has helped me write so much more in less time. Try it.
1. Get Clear on Your Why
You’ve probably heard the ‘figure out your why’ stuff before. Here’s a different spin on it:
Think about your why in 3 parts:
a.Why are you writing this (for yourself)? What is the reason why you feel you need/want to write it? Everyone’s reasons will be different. It also varies depending on what you’re writing (your book vs your author website vs Instagram captions, etc.). A few examples of why you need to write: it will help your author branding or it feels healing for you to write about the topic or you want to practice consistently writing on a particular subject.
There are a thousand possible reasons why. Only you know the reasons specific to you and your goals. Dig deep and get clarity.
b. Why are YOU writing this? I’m not repeating the same question; hear me out. What is the reason why you feel you have the experience/knowledge/calling/whatever to write it? Why should it be you and not someone else?
c. Why will you be writing this for your readers? Why do your readers need/want to read this?
Your why is the foundation of flow. Take a few minutes to get clear on your why before you start writing a piece, a blog post, or an entire book. In taking the time, you’ll even get clarity about things that need to go into the piece for it to match your intentions.
2. Separate Research and Writing
Any research you need to do for a writing session should be done before you start. Writing and researching are two separate processes. Trying to combine the two only disrupts your state of flow.
You want non-stop writing without interruptions. If you find you can’t continue without further research, either move to another part of the piece/book that doesn’t require further research. Or stop the writing process, finish your research, and then start the writing process again. The fundamental point is research and writing are two separate processes. You don’t write a little, then research, then write a little more, then research. Many beginning writers do this and it slows you down. You want to keep your writing sessions as uninterrupted as possible.
If you’re what we call a ‘pantser’ (you prefer to just write and don’t like creating outlines), then you’re rolling your eyes. But…
if your way (pantsing) was working for you, I doubt you’d be reading this article.
So, try outlining. Take your next book, chapter, or scenes, and outline them. Track your progress (word count) to see if it helps you. Maybe try it for a month or two to get enough data to make a decision.
The next 4 suggestions are to be done immediately before you start each writing session:
4. Get Calm
I don’t know what helps you feel calm and clear-headed. Meditation and journaling both work for me. These may not work for you. It can be as long as a 20-minute journaling session or as short as taking a few deep breaths. Find a way to get calm. This is a way to transition from daily activities into writing. It’s a way to quiet the mind and body.
Then, try to maintain that calm while you write. Turning off social media, call, and email notifications helps. You want your mind to be as calm and focused as possible.
5. Gather Your Tools
It’s estimated that it takes an average of 15 minutes to get into flow state. Have you ever thought about what that means for your writing?
It means every time you stop writing and oh, say, get up for water or coffee, check social media, randomly open your fridge and stare inside for no reason, you’re breaking flow.
It will then take another 15 minutes to get back into it. Ouch! Or what likely happens is that you never even reach flow because you keep stopping to do something else before you get there.
Don’t be a flow-breaker. Gather your tools before you start.
Examples of tools: writing music playlist, favorite candle that you always light before you write, tea, water, whatever you do to create the ideal writing environment for yourself.
6. Get in Place
I know where I write best, and I go there. Every. Single. Time. I don’t sometimes write at the kitchen table, then other times on the couch, then maybe at the coffee shop. Nope.
I’ve tracked my writing and I know that my writing desk is the best place for me to get into flow. Do you know the location that works best for your writing flow?
7. Warm Up
I write in my journal every morning before I start my ‘professional’ writing. This is like a creative warm-up for me, and sometimes it even sparks writing ideas.
If you don’t like journaling, you can do a mental warm-up. Simply reflect on the topic idea, what you’ve already written, the outline, etc.).
What to Do While You Write:
8. Do Not Edit
Do not edit while you write.
Do not edit while you write.
That’s not a typo. You needed to read that twice. I needed to read that twice. We all struggle with this one. If you edit while you write, you’ll take twice as long to finish. Everything! Or you may not finish at all. When the editing brain is firing, you’re filtering your words, changing things as you write, and slowing yourself down. Your editing will come later.
Do not edit while you write.
I think we can move on from this now.
9. Remain at Your Desk/Writing Station
Try to stay at your desk and write for the entire writing session, without moving away from your desk/table. This almost sounds like I’m wishing torture on you. I promise, I’m not. But the more you get into the habit of remaining focused on just your writing, the faster you’ll get and the less you’ll break your state of flow. Remember, each time you move away, you break flow and have to spend time getting back into the zone.
Of course, move away if you absolutely need to, and, also, to stretch/move your body. It’s best to set a timer for those breaks. Some writers like the Pomodoro Technique (25 minutes on, 5 minutes off. Rinse and repeat). I used to. I now prefer longer writing sessions. Find what works for you and set a timer.
Things You Can Do Continuously Throughout a Writing Project:
10. Buddy Up
Have an ‘idea’ buddy, a writing buddy of sorts to share ideas and inspiration. Maybe that person gives you feedback or support or just plain listens when you need to vent about writing.
11. Sharpen Your Focus Skills
We’ve all but lost our ability to pay attention. To concentrate on one thing with laser focus. Focusing our attention is one of the most underrated yet valuable skills we can harness. From
Figure out if there’s anything impairing your ability to concentrate. Here’s an example: I notice the more time I spend scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, the poorer my concentration. I believe it has to do with the constant scrolling. It’s as if it conditions my brain to be hungry for constant new stimuli. Writing is the opposite. You are focusing on just one thing. There’s no new shiny object—or funny meme— coming up next. It’s just you and the page.
When you practice these steps before, during, and after your writing sessions, you’ll write faster. Not immediately. But over time.
Put These Concepts Into Practice
Step 1. Are there any tips mentioned above that you don’t currently do? How can you add them to your preparation/writing sessions?
Step 2. Start tracking your writing. Performance measured is performance improved. I created a few tracking tools to help you. See the resources below.
Step 3. Write.
(related resources that may be of interest to you)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Finding Flow; The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life
Free Writing Trackers
I created two simple spreadsheets to help you track your word count and writing projects. Enter your email address to get started.
TED Talk – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Flow – 2004