WordCount – Freelancing in the Digital Age

By Michelle Vranizan Rafter

How to Write Fast

with 15 comments

Don’t believe anybody who tells you it’s easy to write fast.

It’s not.

They may mean it’s easy to write fast when your editor stands up in his cubicle on the other side of the newsroom and glares at you because it’s after 5 p.m. and your story was supposed to be filed before 4:30.

Or it’s easy to write fast when you have to be out of the newsroom by 5:25 so you can hit the freeway before traffic backs up and leaves you no chance of making it to the day care provider’s house by 6 when she starts charging overtime by the minute.

In other words, it’s easy to write fast under intense pressure.

Most freelance writers don’t face that kind of pressure. It’s probably why we stopped working in newsrooms in the first place. We don’t have daily deadlines and we’re not bound to getting things done during normal office hours because most of us work from home. Our pressure is self imposed. We take assignments – probably too many because who can say no to work when it means extra income – and then it’s up to us to figure out how to get it done on time.

So freelancers have to device other ways to meet deadlines.

This comes up a lot in freelance circles. Writers have some pretty creative solutions for pushing themselves to finish work on time. Some set a timer. Others use the carrot method and promise themselves a reward when they finish – a cookie, glass of wine or long soak in the tub. Sue Poremba, a freelance writer and editor in State College, Penn., meets electronically with a freelance writer friend once a day to freewrite for 30 minutes as a way of forcing themselves to work on tasks they’ve been putting off. David Fryxell, author of Write Faster, Write Better, (Writer’s Digest Books, 2004), is a big beliver in outlines for articles, even short ones. J.A. Konrath, author of the Lt. Jaqueline “Jack” Daniels thriller series, advocates getting words on the page no matter how bad you think they are.

I’ve come up with a few tricks of my own:

Work when you’re on – I work best early in the morning, so when I’m on deadline I get up early and write. For me, a solid hour at 5 a.m. is as productive as two or three draggy hours in the afternoon.

Unplug – Turn off email. Close the browser. Log off the message boards. Do whatever it takes to eliminate distractions. This is especially hard for me because I often fact check information on Websites as I write and checking one site can lead to checking MyYahoo, my blog stats, my favorite bloggers. Just pull the plug.

Don’t let yourself be disturbed – When I worked in a newsroom, I put a sign on top of my PC monitor to keep people from bugging me on deadline. Other writers used headphones to listen to music. Now I work in my den and if other people are around I just close the doors.

Be prepared
– It’s easy to start writing a story if you’ve finished all the research and reporting, reviewed your notes and made an outline – written or mental – of what you want to say. By that point the words are practically oozing out of me. But cut corners on the basics and the words just won’t come. It’s your brain’s way of telling you that you’ve still got work to do.

Got your own secrets for writing fast?

Written by Michelle Rafter

March 17, 2008 at 2:46 pm

15 Responses

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  1. No other ideas at the moment, but I’m a big fan, too, of just getting it on the page.

    And I find the newsroom example with someone standing over you while you write horrifying. I’d never be able to write like that…fast or slow. I’m a wave-the-person-away kind of writer. Stand beside me, behind me, or in front of me to get my attention while I’m trying to concentrate at the keyboard, and I might just have to ask you to leave.

    Thanks for the tips, though. I like your blog.

    Jackie Dishner

    Jackie Dishner

    March 18, 2008 at 11:34 am

  2. I completely agree with using your optimal time of day to advantage. As a mom, I find that even more important than I did early on. I know that on any given day, my most productive hours will be early morning, before Little Person needs take center stage. I work much later too, but my most efficient work almost always happens before 8am.

    But other than that…the whole idea of writing fast is absolutely foreign to me. If I’m under a short deadline, it usually means I will be working through dinner or into the night, not that I will somehow be inspired to put the pedal down. I work at one rate, the one that gets the job done right. I admit it. I’ve yet to shorten my work time and still achieve quality results.

    I have to agree with Jackie. That newsroom example is a horror show. I could never work under those conditions–at least, not without chronic hair loss.

    AnnaLisa Michalski

    March 18, 2008 at 6:11 pm

  3. I can write fast, but it’s a skill I’ve honed over the years and it depends both on what type of writing I’m doing and what I’m willing to sacrifice for the speed.

    For clients, I always rely on the old axiom:

    I can can do good, I can do fast, and I can do cheap. But you can only have two of those at a time.


    March 25, 2008 at 10:35 am

  4. Ok this is going to sound just so wrong. What about drugs? In particular, nicotine? I have discovered that some very prolific writers, Mark Twain and Churchill to name two, could only write while smoking. Do a lot of writers smoke, chew, do the patch?


    December 29, 2008 at 8:02 am

  5. Smoking is so…20th century. Caffeine, I think, is the 21st century writer’s drug of choice. Anybody else wanna weigh in on this one?

    Michelle Rafter

    December 29, 2008 at 8:12 am

  6. I found your post just now through your comment at Problogger. Thanks for the article. I’m a horribly slow writer. I’m just about to start writing a new post though… so I’ll try out some of your tips.

    Here we go…

    Marshall Jones, Jr.

    Marshall | bondChristian

    December 29, 2008 at 9:07 am

  7. Hi,

    I found this post from the comment you left at problogger.net.

    His article was great, but there are some good tips here too.


    Joel Drapper

    December 30, 2008 at 8:14 am

  8. I too found the post from the Problogger comment…see it does work…and enjoyed both posts. But they also raised a question for me, or maybe it’s more of a plea to fellow writers since, as a freelancer, this is an income question for me.

    I hear people talking all the time about writing articles in 10-15 minutes; 500+ words rolling off the fingertips with no effort and all that. I think it gives the buying public a very wrong idea of what’s involved in quality writing. I think we can all agree also that that sort of talk has contributed to the idea that a 500 word blog post is only worth $5, or $15 as an eZine article if you post it for them.

    Yesterday I wrote four longer pieces for Squidoo, hubpages, etc. Each was around 1,000 words and each still took me over an hour. The key to the speed was the fact that I knew my subject cold. The day before I was able to do half as well because the keywords and subject I was working with then was not one I knew. Today, I have four pieces to do and can honestly only think of two unique topics. It’s going to be a long day.

    I think we need to be much more open about the amount of time it takes to research and plan that 500 word article. How long do you spend finding pictures to use, or fact check after you write as well. Do you allow time for one or two reread/rewrites.

    There is a difference between the stream of consciousness style of writing that is a blog post on a well worn subject…or a ranting comment like this one…and an article or post that imparts hard information for which we expect to be paid.

    As writers, would you agree we need to make this difference more clear to our clients? Wouldn’t it make sense to start that by talking among ourselves that way as well?

    Liz Micik

    January 1, 2009 at 7:16 am

  9. Liz: You raise some excellent points. This is something that I’ve been contemplating a lot lately, in light of posts I’ve seen on other freelance writing blogs about the paltry amount of money being offered for Web content.

    I’d already planned to write about this and your comments only reinforce that. Stay tuned.

    Michelle R.

    Michelle Rafter

    January 1, 2009 at 2:27 pm

  10. […] How to Write Great Copy Fast – Turn your topic into a question that you will answer in writing. How to Write Fast – Get in the right state of mind and set up your […]

  11. […] How to Write Great Copy Fast – Turn your topic into a question that you will answer in writing. How to Write Fast – Get in the right state of mind and set up your […]

  12. When I was working on my BA, I find that there were period of time when I worked at my best- I was efficient unlike any other time. I understand what you mean by finding your zones or moments when you’re at your best. Second, you’re right on about unplugging- I like to say disconnect, turn of the internet, TV, Twitter and so on.

    Focus at the task at hand, I use a timer to boost my productivity. :) Thanks for sharing!

    Miguel Wickert

    January 11, 2009 at 9:47 am

  13. […] before your research and interviews are finished to help you zero in on what you need to ask. Write during your “up” time of day to maximize […]

  14. […] How to write fast. – Setting the timer is just the start. […]

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