No matter what you write, your productivity and income as a writer is limited by how quickly you can turn your ideas into words.
Every writer has limits to how fast they can write, and every writer has areas where they can improve that speed if they put effort and focus into the task.
Brute force is one of those areas: simply typing faster and staring harder at the screen to force the words to come.
But it’s not the best area to work on. Instead, “work smarter, not harder” by applying some of these Jedi mind tricks to your writing work day. You’ll be happy with the results.
How to Write Faster
In addition to learning how to type faster, here are 9 tips from professional writers that will help you write more in less time.
1. Outline at Night
As you’re closing down for the night, identify what you need to work on the next day. Take 10-15 minutes to create an outline for each thing you plan to write. While you’re falling asleep, you won’t be able to avoid thinking about them and setting yourself up for speedy writing come morning. You’ll also process some of the problem while you sleep.
Then, in the morning, start by typing your outline into the document. This helps jumpstart your productivity so you spend less time staring at a blank screen.
2. Write Like a 9-Year-Old
Have you ever listened to a 9-year-old tell the story of a movie he just watched? “And then this happened, and then that happened, and then another thing…” until he says, “And then it was over, and the good guys won.”
Any time you know what you want to say but are having trouble with how to say it, just spit it out like that kid talking about a movie. “And then this happened, and then that point, then they talked about the thing.”
Come back later and revise it, but use this method to keep your momentum going. Slowing down will lead to stopping, and that breaks your flow and keeps you from getting that chapter, article, or blog post done.
Keep moving and fix it up later.
3. Hang a Sign
Eliminate distractions by hanging a sign to tell people you aren’t to be disturbed. This can be a literal sign posted on the door of your office or study, or whatever other signal works to let people know to only talk to you if something’s on fire and they’ve already attempted unsuccessfully to put it out.
The most interesting “sign” I’ve ever heard about was used at TSR (the company that originally made the Dungeons and Dragons game). They had one of those cubicle farm arrangements for their writers, which meant no doors. If somebody was working hard on deadline, they would put an office chair in the cubicle entry, and a giant inflatable tyrannosaurus in the chair.
I never learned where the T-rex came from.
I share a home office with my lovely and talented wife, who also works from home. We wear earphones when we don’t want to be disturbed.
Whatever your “sign” looks like, it will reduce interruptions so you can stay in flow for as long as you need to.
4. Race Yourself
A little competition never hurt anybody (unless the person in question was a bad UFC fighter). Compete against yourself by saying “I’ll write 1,000 words in the next hour.” Or whatever goal works for your current top writing speed.
The challenge with this simple concept is you have to balance your goals with realism on one side and pushing yourself on the other. If you set your goals too high, you’ll become frustrated and end up ignoring them. If you set them too low, you’ll never improve your speed.
How often you let yourself fail is a matter of personal preference. For me, I like to calibrate my goals in hour-long chunks and set them so I succeed about two-thirds of the time. That gives me enough success to feel good, but pushes me hard enough to keep growing.
5. Stop Writing Mid-Sentence
This may be my favorite Jedi mind trick of the bunch. Don’t let its simplicity fool you—it’s deviously effective.
When it comes time to stop work for a session, resist the temptation to finish the sentence you’re working on. Just take your hands off the keyboard and walk away. If you happened to finish a sentence when the time came, write three words of the next sentence before you quit.
I know. This is against everything beautiful you have ever stood for. But trust me, it’s worth it.
Remember all those times you sat down to write and lost half an hour trying to start, but then just tore through the rest of your time once the logs unjammed? If you use this method, you start typing immediately. The unfinished sentence will have spent all those intervening hours like an unscratched itch and you’ll jump into flow state faster than you ever have before.
6. Unplug Your Computer
For all the Facebook, Instagram, email, and flash game junkies out there, this is a lifesaver. Simply turn off the internet on your computer when you’re working. Depending on how seriously distractible you are, this can mean anything from turning on nanny software, to disabling internet on your settings, to physically unplugging your internet from the back of your computer.
Enjoy an hour or two of interruption-free writing, then turn stuff back on to see what you’ve missed.
Also, put your phone on that shelf across the room. That’s cheating.
7. Write at a Standing Desk
A standing desk is exactly what it sounds like: a desk where your keyboard and monitor are set at a height where you stand while working instead of sitting. You can spend a couple thousand on fancy ones with motors to adjust the height, build one out of IKEA furniture for about $200, or slap a DIY version together with lumber you probably have on hand.
Regardless of the method you choose, a standing desk has been proven to improve productivity by 10-30% (to say nothing of all the health benefits). So seriously, consider it.
If you want to go seriously Jedi, you can convert a treadmill into a standing desk so you work out while you write.
8. Write During Your “Golden Hours”
You know how there are hours when you sleep best and hours when you toss and turn? You know how happy you are when you experience quality sleep during those hours, and how miserable it can be when you have to sleep when your body doesn’t want to?
It’s the same for your writing time. Personally, I find I’m most focused between 9 and 12 in the morning, and between 7 and 10 at night. If I can write during those times, I get a lot more done than if I try to write at other times.
You’ll probably need to actively experiment to find yours, but once you find them, do what it takes to write while you’re hot.
9. Embrace the At-At
It’s not just a vehicle from Star Wars. “At-at” is actually typed “@@.”
Whenever you’re stuck, just type “@@” and a quick note about whatever should go in that part of your manuscript.
“John was the world’s best bartender for three reasons, and nobody disputed those facts. First, he knew how to make every cocktail any human ever ordered in any bar in the universe. Second, he could listen for hours to anybody’s troubles with no sign of boredom or judgement. Third, @@.”
This little trick keeps me from losing hours of writing time coming up with a third thing for John’s bartending credentials. I can use that time to keep writing about what happens to John, then do a Find for @@ later on and fill in the blanks I left.
It’s Your Turn to Start Writing Faster
One last thing: the ultimate mind trick is to make writing a priority in your life.
If it’s important to you, if you derive joy and satisfaction from it, then you will find yourself focused, energetic, and happy when you step up to your keyboard.
If you’re not passionate about your current writing project, see if you can make a few tweaks that will get you more excited, or take on a new project that stokes your fire.
Focused, energetic, happy writers always write more quickly than distracted, torpid, grumpy writers.
Find your passion and follow it. Everything will flow from there.
Do you have any tips on how to write faster? Share them in the comments below!