The first time I was ever hired to write a press release, I charged $100 for an hour’s work.
The problem was, it only took me 20 minutes to write the thing.
I felt so guilty that I just sat and stared at my computer for the next 40 minutes, looking for errors, changing a word here and there, but mostly just making sure I worked the entire hour.
I finally realized — with five minutes remaining — that the client hadn’t hired me to work for an hour. They hired me because I had the ability to produce a press release in an hour or less.
I just never told them it took me 20 minutes.
It turns out, that’s pretty fast. I know people who take a few hours to write a press release. It takes them a few hours to write anything, in fact. They dread writing, they dread the blank page or the empty screen, and they don’t know how to fill it up.
Copywriter extraordinaire Henneke Duistermaat recently wrote about 12 productivity hacks to help you write faster, which can help the non-writer and beginning writer snap out of the “I can’t do it!” funk and actually get some words down on the page.
(She also created a really cool sketch for her article, and I’m totally jealous.)
With tips like “write when groggy” and “slow down,” Henneke’s advice can help even the most resistant non-writers into passable scribblers.
But there are a few other writer-y things professional writers do so we can write much faster than non-writers. And if you want to speed up your writing time, here are four tips for writing faster for you to try.
1. Always put ideas in a notebook
If you don’t have one, get yourself a nice little notebook. Either a Moleskine or Field Notes. Something durable and simple, and small enough to fit into a pocket or purse.
Don’t get one of those gorgeous leather-bound things that looks like it came from Elvish Hobby Lobby. You’ll be too afraid to write in it, and it will be too clunky to carry around.
If you have an idea that pops into your head, write it down. It gets the idea out of your head so a new one can take its place. Otherwise, it will keep rattling around up there, and you’ll keep churning it around in your brain.
Don’t put it in your phone though. You need to go through the physical act of writing, because it helps us remember things better, which is going to help us with writer hack number 2.
Next, come up with three main points — write out full sentences — that you think would best explain this topic. If you can come up with more, write them down too. But make sure you have at least three.
2. Ponder your ideas
Okay, I stole this one. Henneke says to “take advantage of percolation.”
When you aren’t writing, your brain still continues thinking about your content. It’s called the diffuse mode of thinking—when you let your mind wander freely.
But I want you to do more than just letting your mind wander freely. You’re going to focus on this idea, you’re going to imagine yourself in different scenarios, and you’re going to work it and work it, like a baker kneading her dough.
Any time you can find time to concentrate, I want you to imagine and visualize the subject of your article/blog post/white paper/story. This percolation is actually where you’re going to do the real writing, creating and fleshing out your ideas. The act of putting it down on the computer is just typing; for now, you’re going to write in your head.
Whenever you’re going to drive somewhere, ride the train home, go for a run, putter around in the garage, or do yoga, look at your idea before you start. Open up your notebook, study your great idea and main points, and then ponder them as you’re running, driving, puttering, yoga-ing.
Really mull it over and grind it between your teeth. Use this non-computer time to come up with different thoughts, ideas, phrasing, and so on. As those ideas start to develop, that should lead you into hack number three.
3. Imagine yourself giving this as a talk
Picture yourself giving a talk on this subject to a roomful of people. (If it helps, imagine they’re adoring fans hanging on your every word.) What would you say? How would you explain this? You want to explain the subject logically, so it flows in a natural, easy-to-understand way. Think about a couple of stories you could add in there, and even a few jokes.
Do this visualization whenever you’ve got the time — driving, commuting, walking, in the shower, before you go to bed, and so on. This is more of Henneke’s percolating and it’s where your best writing is going to happen.
Finally, you’re ready for the last hack.
4. Write an email to your mom.
I always like to say, “If you’re writing about something difficult, put it an email to your mom.”
Seriously. Start out with, “Dear Mom, let me tell you something I learned today.”
Now, our moms love us, but they don’t quite get what they do. For the longest time, my mom knew I “sold things on the Internet,” but that’s about as far as she got. (And she was a financial aid consultant with PeopleSoft for a lot of years!)
So we have to explain things in language that our moms understand, and in a tone we would normally talk to our moms in. In other words, keep it simple AND CONVERSATIONAL, but don’t talk down to her.
(You remember what happened the last time you talked down to your mom, right?)
When you’re done explaining the topic to your mom, go back and delete that first line, “Dear Mom, let me tell you . . .” And there’s your blog post.
Do it this way, because it’s easier to write emails to the people we love and who love us. (Unless we’re writing about our relationships with those people. That’s hard. Save that for the holidays when the nieces and nephews won’t shut up, and everyone’s frustrated and half-drunk.)
In the end, the best way to start writing faster is to practice, practice, practice. Read a lot about your subject (books, not blog posts), and talk to people about the subject. Even the act of explaining your ideas will help you write them better, because you have to organize your thoughts just to explain them.
Photo credit: William Warby (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)