Estimated reading time: 14 minutes
Let’s solve a little math problem. John leaves Hemingway Station writing 500 words an hour towards a guest post 1000 words away. Sandy leaves King Station writing 1000 words an hour towards the same guest post, also 1000 words away. When they arrive, they both get paid $100.
How much did each of them make?
If you said they both made $100 then you may be a good writer, but you’re not that great at math because during the time it took John to get to his destination, Sandy could have made two trips, earning twice as much.
As a writer, your best bet for staying on top of your game is to calculate the amount of money you’re making per hour, not per word, not per article. If you write more you might get paid more but, in fact, your income has not improved and there’s only so many hours in a day. If you really want to get paid more, then you need to write faster.
How much money you’re making per hour can also be a great progress indicator. If you start out taking 3 hours to write a 1000 word blog post then reduce that to 1 hour, you’ve got a quantitative measurement of your improvement as a writer.
Luckily, I’ve got some tips to help you get to your destination faster which don’t include spinning articles with automated software to create barely legible work. If you keep these 5 simple techniques in mind you’ll be spitting out articles faster than you ever thought possible, while keeping the same level of work your clients love. Win-win-win.
HOW TO WRITE FASTER AND MAKE MORE MONEY
Step 1: Before You Sit Down, Know What You’re Writing
Here’s how you’ve been led to believe writing works: You wake up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, crack your knuckles, tap into some subconscious muse creature, and just like that you let the words flow right through you. Tap tap tap goes the keyboard and suddenly Look! it’s 5pm and you’ve got, like, a billion words written.
How many times did this actually happen to you? That’s what I thought.
There are two distinct problems here (if you ignore the “waking up in the morning” part… I mean… who does that, right?): First, you’re basing your production on one of the most fleeting things in the universe: your muse. A mythological creature. You might as well hope for a unicorn to deliver the words for you. If there’s anything I, and every other professional writer knows, there is no such thing as a muse. You sit down and do what you gotta do to make it work. If you’re inspired in the process, that’s all well and good; if not, you get it done anyway. No-one ever got anything done by walking around the house waiting to be “inspired”.
And second, you’re assuming the writing starts when you sit down to write. In fact, if you want to get more done, you need to “start writing” way before you start writing.
The mind is a beautiful thing. In half a second you can imagine a whole world, with aliens and space ships and dinosaurs that shoot lasers. So why not use it to plan an article before you even start writing? I’ve had the idea for this article that you’re reading right now all day long. It sat there, coming to the forefront only when my brain thought it found something intriguing that required my approval. Otherwise, it was on autopilot. In fact, it started as a three-step article, which then grew to five while I was taking my after-work shower. Brilliant.
Once it starts rattling around in that head of yours, an idea grows like a grape vine. It begins to take a life of its own, splitting up into all sorts of nonsense. But that nonsense is your brain doing its magic. And some of it is pure gold.
Even better, think of an idea in the evening and then, instead of sitting down to write it, let it simmer overnight. Your brain will keep at it, figuring out ways and connections you would never have thought of if you just sat down and stared at a white page for 6 hours.
So step 1 is “Think before you write”. Get the idea juices flowing before you sit down at your desk. The best part is you don’t even have to do anything for this step. In fact, you have got to do less. Just… think about things. Let them sit for a while before you start writing. And by the time you get to writing, you’ll have an itch you can’t wait to scratch. You’ll blaze right through it as soon as your fingers find the keys.
Okay… that’s not entirely true. It’s only the first half of the equation.
Step 2: Before You Start Writing, Plan Your Work
Alright, now we can start writing, right?
Now you’ve got a great idea and your brain is overflowing with words. “This one’s gonna write itself,” you think as you change into your comfortable sweat pants and NaNoWriMo t-shirt combo. Except, it won’t write itself because this isn’t 2039 and we still don’t have telepathic computers.
If you start writing now, that magnificent jumbled up mess of thoughts your brain has concocted will vanish the moment you write your first 100 words. I promise you. The reason is that you’re attempting to accomplish two things at once, writing and creating. Unfortunately, the writing part of your brain is technical, methodical, whereas the creating part is Chuck Norris smashing through your bedroom window and delivering a whirlwind of one-liners and roundhouse kicks.
These two things don’t go well with each other.
Once you start writing, you’re going to hinder your creative side. So what do we do?
“But Amante,” I hear the voices in my head say. “Isn’t planning even more boring than writing?” To that, I say “Yes! Yes it is.” But here’s the thing: writing isn’t just writing words. It’s sentence structure, it’s making sense and delivering a message, it’s attempting to replicate a million different techniques that you’ve learnt and read about, it’s making sure you’re using the right words, it’s metaphors and similes. On the other hand, planning is simply that… planning.
The words you write while you’re planing are not going to be read by anyone (thankfully). They don’t have to be cohesive, or even closely related to any language structure at all. They just need to take this jumbled-up mess of thoughts in your head and turn it into something you can work with.
Have you ever tried giving a speech on a subject you knew well, but without planning for it? Has your boss ever surprised you with a “The other guy’s sick and I need you to give a presentation on that software you created. You know it well and you’ll do fine, don’t worry about it,” and you just can’t find the words and it’s a disaster? That’s a perfect example of what we’re trying to avoid here. You did know the subject well, but there’s a huge gap between the disconnected kind of way your brain and thoughts work and the way you need to use language in a structured, technical and efficient way to deliver information to your listeners in a way they’ll understand. We plan before presentations and speeches, and we plan before we write.
A plan can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be. It might be just a couple of sentences, or maybe just the headlines (like I had for this one), or it could be almost as long as the final product. The goal is not to suffocate your creativity, but to find a balance between focusing too much on what you’re writing and putting what you’re thinking to paper. It gives you a simple road map to follow in case you get lost, but without getting into all the excruciating detail (like how to spell excruciating).
The plan simply translates what your brain is doing into something legible. You can then focus on the actual writing of the article (or story) without fear of losing all that wonderful Chuck Norris craziness. You have it all on paper; you just gotta follow the map, filling in the details as you go. It’s like having tiny note cards during your best-man speech to avoid everybody looking at you like you’ve got “idiot” spray-painted on your forehead. You don’t need to have the whole script; single-line notes will do just fine.
Now you can write.
Step 3: While You’re Writing, Just Write
The easiest thing to do while writing is anything else. Sure, sometimes you may be “in the zone” and you’re so absorbed in the article (or story) you’re writing that the words are flying out of you and into that magnificent piece of art you’re working on, but most of the time, this just isn’t the case.
If you’re a professional writer, you just don’t have the luxury to hang around and wait until you “feel like writing”. No, writing is something you do and it’s something you’ve gotta do right now because your clients don’t care that you’re not inspired. So here’s a few quick tips on how to keep writing when you should be writing:
- Get rid of distractions. Figure out your distractions and eliminate them, systematically and with extreme prejudice. My distractions included games, social networks (particularly Reddit), and YouTube. So I uninstalled every one of my games but one (got to have something for what little free time I have) and I installed a great Chrome extension that blocks Reddit and YouTube for me. Distractions: handled. Now, when I’m writing, I can’t do anything but write.
- Take frequent breaks. While removing distractions is a good idea, I do not suggest attempting to write without breaks. It will wear you down and it will cause you physical pain, which will hinder your writing more than anything else. I personally use and suggest the Pomodoro Technique. I take a 5 minute break every 30 minutes (i.e. 25 minutes work / 5 minutes rest). During that rest, stretch, watch a YouTube video, whatever you want to do. Just don’t waste a whole hour on a 5 minute break.
- Write first, edit later. This is a big one and it’s one of the hardest things you’ll need to learn to do if you want to write faster and make more money. When you’re writing… just write! Don’t double back a thousand times trying to figure out the best way to phrase that sentence. Don’t spend an hour attempting to write your best first line. Just write! Take your plan, stick it in front of you, and start writing. Fill that white box with words. When you’re writing you gain momentum, and backtracking over your work to polish it destroys that momentum. No-one wants that. Keep writing. You’ll get the time you need to polish this nugget of coal into something great once you reach the end. Give permission to yourself to write a bad first draft, knowing that it will become amazing before all is said and done.
Now that you’ve written to your heart’s content and the blog post or story is done, you have my permission to edit your work. But…!
Step 4: When You’re Done, Let It Go
You can spend the rest of your life editing one single blog post. I know there were times when I spent twice as much on editing as I did writing something. That’s as long as it would have taken me to write two more posts and make three times as much money. Instead I wasted all that time on a post to take it from “good enough” to “slightly more good enough” and what do I have to show for it?
See, the thing a lot of people get hung up on, is attempting to create something perfect every single time. It’s normal to feel that need to bridge the gap between what we know we want to create and what we’ve actually created. Editing is a very important skill, and tool, that turns those no-edits, no-distractions, all-in-one-sitting first drafts, into something your readers will enjoy, share, and learn something from. But there is such a thing as too much editing and the return on time spent editing diminishes with each pass.
In the end, you’re running a business. A cupcake business that spends 1 hour making cupcakes and the next 7 hours perfecting every single sprinkle might have the absolute perfect cupcakes, but they could have made 5 more batches if they spent only 2 hours perfecting those delicious, colorful sprinkles (hhmmmm…).
If you’ve never read the famous quote by Ira Glass about giving yourself permission to suck, watch the video below. This quote will change the way you look at your work.
You’ve got to let your work go and move on to the next big thing. As your skills improve, that gap between your taste and your work gets smaller and smaller. It will still be there, it will never be gone, but you’ll require less editing and less work to produce “good enough” work.
I am not suggesting that you don’t edit your work. Editing is an extremely important tool. But you need to know when to stop.
Step 5: When You’re Not Writing, You Should Be
Writing seems to be one of the most underestimated skills. The barrier of entry is as low as it can be: anybody with something that leaves a mark, and something to leave a mark on, can do this writing thing. We’re taught language and how to write before we learn anything else. Everybody has got the tools to write. Because of this low barrier of entry, everybody thinks they can do it. Everybody thinks sitting down and writing every day is easy.
A tennis racket, a court, a ball, and knowing the basic rules might give you the ability to play tennis (in some form or other) but that does not make you a tennis player. And it definitely does not make you a successful, professional tennis player.
But when it comes to writing, we tend to shrug it off. “Ehh, I’ve been writing my whole life,” your friend says. “How hard can it be?”
Writing is a skill, and skills need to be trained. Just like with everything else, it’s practice that makes perfect. Or, at least, good enough. Many of us dream to be perfect, but the amount of work required to achieve that level of success makes most people queasy at best.
To get better you need to write. There’s no other way around it. I discussed this in my first ever 100 Days of Words post when I announced that I was going to do this challenge. To be a writer you’ve got to write. The more you write, the better you get.
As you get better, you write faster.
And as you write faster, you’ll make more money.
If you’d like to learn more about how to write faster check out these books from Amazon. They’ve helped me tremendously, and I’m sure they’ll do the same for you.
- 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter (★★★★★)
- Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Day (★★★★☆)
- The 2kH Formula: How To Instantly Write At Least 2,000 Words PER HOUR (★★★★☆)
- 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love (★★★★☆)