No matter if you’re writing blog posts or working on the draft of your first novel: you’re probably wondering what would happen if you could write faster. I bet you’re wondering how some people manage to write a book in a matter of months and how some bloggers manage to publish super-polished posts every few days.
How fast do professionals write?
My personal record is 6,000 words written in a single day because the topic was extremely familiar to me – but I would never, never recommend this to anyone.
According to this amazing survey, the most successful bloggers spend over six hours crafting a single article. Yes, this is practically an entire workday, given that most full-time writers work five to six hours a day. And a top-ranking article is usually around 2,000 words long (I didn’t count it, Neil Patel did).
And according to HubSpot’s 2015 2015 State of Inbound report, most marketers spend 1-2 hours on a 500-word article.
When it comes to fiction writers, their daily word count varies from as little as 500 words (Ernest Hemingway) to as much as 2,000 (Stephen King) and even a whopping 10,000 (Michael Crichton).
The ultimate secret to writing faster
So… how do professional writers actually maintain their writing speed and produce high-quality creative output on a regular basis? Well, here’s the secret.
I first learned about it in a Copyblogger course. And while it initially sounded like even more work on top of all the writing, it has dramatically increased my writing speed (and quality, to be honest).
So, here’s the secret. Have a writing process and stick to it.
It’s a surefire way to prevent writer’s block, reduce procrastination and help you churn out one blog post after another (or one book chapter after another, depending on the type of writing project you’re working on). No more staring at a blank page and wasting your precious writing time.
Here’s my 7-step writing process that will help you structure your time and use your mental energy wisely.
- Preliminary research (KW research, looking at your competitors)
- Writing an outline
- Writing a first draft
- Adding visuals etc.
Now, let’s go into each of these in more detail. I also made a handy infographic that you can save and/or share.
A writing process for blogging and content writing
Research is more than a quick Google search
Contrary to what some people think, you don’t just sit down and write. Unless you already know what to write, you’ll just end up staring at a blank screen.
But… how do you know what to write?
If you’re writing SEO-optimized website copy or content for your own blog or for a client, some keyword research and competitor analysis will lay the foundation to a high-ranking piece. Yes, many clients will provide you with guidelines and a set of keywords, but it’s still a good idea to run them through an SEO research tool.
In addition to that, check out tools like AnswerThePublic to find out what your audience wants to learn about a specific topic.
You can also do some research in Facebook groups or ask your subscribers directly. This will ensure that you’re not just following SEO algorithms but writing for real people.
Research also involves finding relevant quotes and stats that will add credibility to your piece.
If you’re working on a novel or a story, research would possibly involve reading history books about the time when your story takes place, browsing psychology forums to find character ideas etc.
Brainstorm like a pro
Now comes the brainstorming phase. Yes, it sounds like a lot of extra work, but it helps you build a solid foundation for an engaging, focused piece.
I prefer to brainstorm in a notebook, but you can also use sticky notes or a mind-mapping tool if you want to. Write your main keyword or idea in the center of the page and then write down anything that comes to mind – even if it’s pretty much irrelevant at first sight.
A brainstorming session doesn’t always start smoothly. However, your brain will likely focus within 15-20 minutes and after that, ideas will start flowing without much effort on your part (provided that you did your research well).
With most writing projects, you’ll probably discard quite a few of the ideas you’ve brainstormed – but don’t throw them out just yet. Many of them can be used for other content pieces.
Always write an outline
You may want to sit down and churn out an entire article in a single sitting, simply by typing paragraph after paragraph. However, this is simply not how writing works.
If you try to write without an outline, you might either end up with a severe case of writer’s block or write an article without a clear focus.
Outlining is basically selecting the most relevant items from the mind map you created in the previous step and arranging them in a sequence that makes sense to you and your readers. An outline usually looks like a list of bullet points.
In this step, you can also craft your headline and subheads. If you’re a content creator, you probably know that this step can require quite a bit of time – but please, please don’t skip it.
For shorter texts, an outline that only contains the headings may be good enough. For longer writing projects, you can refine your outline to include some key points and important sentences.
Write (but don’t edit yet)
Writing and editing require completely different mindsets. So if you edit while writing, you’re essentially forcing your brain to switch tasks once every few minutes. Yes, it’s exhausting, and yes, it makes the entire process slower.
Write an ugly first draft, sleep on it, edit it later.
Teach yourself that writing is simply and literally writing. Ignore the squiggly red lines and the typing mistakes. If you get stuck, type something like @@ (or any other placeholder) and move on before writer’s block takes hold of you.. Just write, write, write, and write. Let the words flow – even if what flows is not exactly the finest wine.
Now that we’re at wine: Ernest Hemingway famously recommended to write drunk and edit sober. Of course, I wouldn’t suggest developing an alcohol addiction just for the sake of becoming a better, faster writer, but yes, writing in a mental state when your inner critic is quiet is truly amazing.
By focusing on writing itself and not on quality, you’ll achieve your word count goals in no time. It’s easy to churn out 1000 ugly words in an hour, if you’re familiar with the topic and you’ve done your research well. And if your SEO research was on point, the 1000 ugly words will already have a decent SEO score.
Ideally, you should edit on the next day. If you can’t because you’ve got a tight deadline, at least take a few hours’ break between editing and writing.
The editing phase
Now that you’ve spent the night worrying about the horrid ugliness of your draft (kidding), get down to editing (if you’re your own editor).
Go through each paragraph and each sentence carefully. Read them aloud if you can – this will help you spot any awkward phrases or confusing syntax immediately.
At this point, you’re unlikely to add any new content to your article – but sometimes new brilliant ideas will indeed pop up. In this case, you might create two or even three drafts.
Many people feel that editing is tedious and want to automate it. In fact, there are lots of tools you can try – such as Grammarly, a tool that can help you find better words and even adjust your style.
Proofread your piece (or let someone do it)
While many people believe that editing and proofreading are synonyms, they’re not. Editing focuses on the content. Is your piece well-structured? Does each paragraph make sense? Is the style consistent?
Proofreading is all about spelling and punctuation, and it requires intense focus, albeit of a different kind than the creative flow you’ve enjoyed during the writing phase. However, proofreading is just another skill that you can learn. The more you proofread, the better you get at it (though, admittedly, some people seem to have a natural talent for detail-oriented activities like proofreading).
Pro tip: Print out your text and proofread it with a pen (or pencil) in hand. For whatever reason, this is usually more effective than trying to proofread on your computer.
If you just can’t stand proofreading, though, there’s nothing shameful about outsourcing it to someone who’s passionate about finding mistakes in other people’s writing.
Add visuals and other nice things
Please don’t interrupt your writing process to fire up Canva and start crafting an infographic just because you felt like it! You’ll just lose your writing momentum and create an unnecessary distraction.
But when your text is ready, it’s time to start working on the visuals. Convert complex data into charts, create shareable infographics and highlight key points.
Of course, this doesn’t really apply to fiction writers who don’t create their own illustrations, so you can skip this step and move right to the next chapter of your book.
Some more pro tips to help you write faster
Here are some bonus tips that will help you write even more content in less time.
Have a bigger plan
If you’re a blogger (or a content writer), each piece of content that you write isn’t just an isolated text. You need a strategy for creating clusters of content that will boost your SEO rankings and bring genuine value to your readers.
If you write fiction, you also need a plan. When are you going to complete your first draft? How many chapters are you planning to write? Crafting a realistic but ambitious plan will help you stay on track while working on your masterpiece.
Build a writing habit
The act of writing shouldn’t be a one-time event. A daily writing routine will hone your writing skills and teach your brain to spring into “writing mode” almost immediately when you sit down at your desk and open a word processor.
Ideally, you should write (almost) every day to keep your “writing muscles” active and happy. Of course, you can take days off, but please don’t schedule writing sessions once a month!
What you think of as multitasking is actually switchtasking, a known productivity and creativity killer. It can reduce your productivity by as much as 40% and cause you to make up to 50% more mistakes.
All phases of the writing process are deep work, something that shouldn’t be interrupted. If you’re writing, then write – don’t suddenly rush off to make an infographic for this specific paragraph or try to edit what you’ve just written.
Eliminating distractions can be an extremely tricky process that requires some introspection and a lot of practice. However, once you master the art of singletasking, you’ll take your writing to a whole new level.
Master the flow state
Writing flow (aka “being in the zone) is one of those magical states of mind that writers can’t get enough of. The term flow, introduced by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, refers to a state of perfect focus when “[t]he ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” (You can read an interview with him here.)
Flow is less elusive than you think: with specific rituals and some practice, you’ll be able to achieve it much faster, almost at will.
Writing is a skill, and if you want to write faster, you need to write more – ideally, every day. And once you’ve developed your writing process, you’ll achieve your writing goals as quickly as a professional writer would.
Olga Ber is a freelance content writer and former journalist. She holds Master’s degrees in Literary Studies and Education. She’s passionate about healthtech, cybersecurity, and the psychology of writing.