I fell down the productivity rabbit hole back at the 2012, when I was only writing 900–1200 words per hour. I knew that my goal and dream of becoming a full-time fiction author was possible, if only I could build my back catalog quickly. But novels were too long, especially mine. One of my novels was nearly 250,000 words done properly. Another had taken me months and months to write. And I was burnt out. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day for writing.
So instead of giving up on my dream, I decided that I was simply going to learn to write faster. I studied suggestions from other people and made a list of nearly 30 different ways I could improve my writing pace. I ended up only needing four general principles, which I’m going to share with you today.
I applied the first principle and saw my word count jump to around 1600 words per hour. Not bad. I applied the next and I was suddenly in the 2000’s. “2000 words!” I thought. Eventually, I had so optimized the crap out of my writing speed that I could write at a predictable 3500–4000 word pace.
Here’s how I did it.
Step 1: Know What You’re Writing
I’ve been writing nonfiction for long enough that I could do a simple bulleted outline and churn out tons of words quickly. Fiction was a little different, but I finally settled into a 4-step process:
- Outline – I wrote roughly a paragraph per chapter about what would happen in the chapter.
- Write Beats – I expanded the outline to roughly five paragraphs per chapter, this time indicating whether a section is dialogue, description, or internal monologue. Each of these three requires a different writing mindset, and most authors gravitate toward one a little more.
- Sketch – I turned each beat from “tell” to “show,” thinking of them as short instructions for what should be on the page. I didn’t bother writing in connectors or transitions between the beats, just tried to hit between 300–500 words with each beat. Essentially, I sketched out the scene without drawing firm lines.
- Draft – I cleaned the sketch to what I call “compile,” which in software terms, means that the program actually runs (there are no syntax errors). For the fiction version of “compile,” I consider it compilable when I could hand it to someone and they could read it with no missing parts. This didn’t necessarily mean that the draft was perfect, but the draft communicated the story well enough that no one would say, “Hey, how did they jump from the bedroom to the restaurant?”
This process continues to work well for me today, especially because I’ve internalized a number of story structures and can easily apply them to my outline. In my opinion, get the outline right, you get the entire book right. I talk about this in my book, Nail Your Outline. This is true for non-fiction and articles, too, and you can easily adapt this structure to all sorts of non-fiction, including books, essays, articles, and blog posts.
Breaking the process out into extremely obvious steps that each only took a very small chunk of time to do was absolutely key to improving my writing speed.
Result: Jumped from ~1000 words/hr to ~1600 words/hr.
NEW! If you want to know more about outline, beats, sketches, draft, check out my 4-step post about beating writer’s block and writing significantly faster on The Write Life!
Step 2: Flow (and The Pomodoro Method)
When you have flow, the words are going to come out of you effortlessly. For me, the easiest way to get into flow was to use The Pomodoro Method.
The Pomodoro Method is a productivity tool in which you work for a concentrated, focused 25 minutes and then get a five minute break before starting again. People use it for all sorts of things, but I decided to use it just for writing, so as not to distract myself while writing.
This technique alone will help you see big gains in writing speed, especially if you’ve planned out your writing already.
It also helps you normalize your writing routine and tracking because the chunk of time is the same for every pomodoro (25 minutes long). My tracking spreadsheet suddenly became more useful in terms of what each number actually meant.
Original Tracking – No Set Length of Session
Word Count/Hour is the second column.
Pomodoro Tracking – 25 Minute Sessions
Word Count/Hour is the 9th column.
I recommend The Pomodoro Method to absolutely everybody, and every single person has said it helped them write faster. So try it. You will be surprised at how out of flow you are during a typical writing session without this.
Result: Jumped from ~1600 words/hr to ~2400 words/hr. Completed a novella that launched my second pen name in two days. You can nearly read my original draft word for word in that novella to this day, because I was in such a state of flow that I barely had any revisions for it.
Step 3: Improve Inputs
The bad thing for me about using The Pomodoro Method was that my wrists and fingers were in serious pain by the end of each day. I couldn’t physically keep up with the typing for reasons that were out of my control. No matter what I did ergonomically, I couldn’t alleviate the issue.
I grew frustrated because I could think of my story faster than I could type it comfortably. So I did a little research and found the concept of dictation, which is likely where our entire culture is going in the next 10 years.
(“Look kids, I remember back in my day when we had to press buttons on this slab of metal and wires just to communicate with each other. Imagine, typing in a word letter-by-letter. You kids are lucky!”)
(Sidenote: my prediction is that spelling will go the way of handwriting in terms of life skills. The next generation simply won’t need it.)
The concept of dictation is simple: the average person speaks at 150 words per minute, while the average person types at 35–40 words per minute. I typed at 70 words per minute, but couldn’t do that for long periods of time with consistency due to my fingers and hands. So if my story was coming at me at a clip of ~30 words per minute or more, my hands couldn’t keep up.
Dictation solved that. I took to it right away and saw huge gains again.
Now, not everyone will take to dictation like me. It makes sense for extroverts and incessant talkers like myself. Yes, there’s some throat clearing to delete in the editing, but for the most part, my story unravelled at an unparalleled pace when I switched.
For introverts, the concept still applies. Make sure your physical input speed over long hours far outpaces your thinking speed, because that’s the only way you’ll be able to transfer your brain to (electronic) paper for extended periods of time.
Pomodoro + Dragon Dictate Tracking
Word Count/Hour is the 9th column.
Result: Jumped from ~2400 words/hr to ~3200 words/hr. I was killing it!
Step 4: Energy
Energy will always, always improve your writing speed, but you’ve got to know yourself too. As an extrovert, a lot of my energy comes from external forces. This makes it difficult for me to be a writer because most of my time is spent by myself.
At the same time, when I write with other people, I don’t want to write, I want to talk. So the most productive places for me are coffee shops where I don’t know anyone… and not to make you introverts laugh, but “not knowing anyone” just honestly doesn’t last that long for me, so I have to change coffee shops regularly just to get some peace.
This created a huge challenge for me because coffee shops provided me the most energy, but I couldn’t dictate in coffee shops. I could dictate at home, but I felt like the atmosphere was chipping away at me more often than not, making my writing stagnate.
I found a really happy medium for myself when I started doing walk and talks. This unfortunately meant I had to wrangle with a ton of technology. (I used my iPad to record and carried a mini-recording studio with me in a backpack as I walked so that I could get good sound and use my expensive mic, which was the only one Dragon Dictate could translate correctly — yeesh.)
The upside was that I could walk to secluded areas of Chicago (a.k.a. the lakefront path below Soldier Field) and speak my novel out loud, in peace, with only a few strange looks from passerbys. The outdoors gave me tons of energy (the constant scenery changes and bustle of people were a plus) and I also got some movement in each day.
Again, your energy may come from other routines, like exercise, reading a good book, or sitting in a special chair and sipping tea, but knowing yourself is key. Figure out where your untapped energy source is and make sure you have a routine to draw from it every day.
Result: Jumped from ~3200 words/hr to ~3500–4000 words/hr!
New! Following your energy patterns matters. I talk about it in my guest post on Sterling and Stone, The Three Biggest Surprises When Starting (or Attempting) a Daily Writing Habit.
When Does It Stop?
After all of this effort (many, many months of experimenting, in my case), I lost interest in increasing my writing speed any further. One reason was because I sensed that any faster would start to degrade my quality of writing significantly. I was already starting to see deterioration at the ~4000 word/hr speed.
Another was because I hate doing things the same way all the time, and I started to get bored with the idea of going out for yet another walk and talk.
If you’re a plodder, you will absolutely, 100% love optimizing your writing speed, because you love routine. I would love to love routine, but alas, I’m a natural burster who needs variety in her day-to-day.
So now, I don’t write at 4000 words per hour every day, but I’m still happy I took the journey. I can write 4000 words per hour, if needed. That’s always going to be a great skill to have. Additionally, I can write a lot more than 1200 words per hour even when I sit down to type at this point (around ~2800 wph — still an amazing speed). And I can dictate at my desk too, depending on what my mood is. Switching off between the different places and different ways I can “write” has increased the sheer number of hours I spend writing, which has helped me put out 6 books this year (with *hopefully* at least another five on the way before the end of the year — they are so close to being done!).
I hope this helps you figure out what works best for you to rapidly improve your writing speed. There are a lot of other tips out there, but most of the are too specific and work only for certain types of people (i.e. a plodder and not a burster, an introvert and not an extrovert, etc.) I’ve never seen any that genuinely matter besides these four above.
As always, my message in sharing this is going to be use the general framework and switch up the details for what works for YOU. That is how you’ll achieve the best results. Know thyself. It’s a freaking great productivity strategy!
Now Several Books!
There were so many interesting questions in my inbox about this topic that I started writing a follow-up article to this one. That article grew and grew so I decided to make it a book! You can get the book, Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Day exclusively on Amazon with three options: purchase, Prime Member borrow, or Kindle Unlimited Member borrow.
Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Daygoes deeper into the 4-step framework to writing faster: Knowledge, Flow, Training, and Energy, answers tons of questions from readers like yourself, provides a lot more data from my experiments, and even goes through an example of my writing process of Outlines, Beats, Sketches, and Draft. I also talk about my 2-month experiment that helped me establish a daily writing habit and write 50,000 words of high-quality fiction (the same goal as National Novel Writing Month!) two months in a row.
Grab Write Better, Faster here »
Ready to establish a consistent writing habit, once and for all?
I dig into the best literature on forming habits and shares the top strategies professional authors are using to make sure they write each and every day. Each tip is easy to implement and will get you writing more in the “in-betweens” — the inactive moments of your life where you are commuting, waiting in line, or otherwise physically stuck with your brain unoccupied!
If you’ve struggled to find time to write due to a day job, family, or an active, busy lifestyle, this book will help you clear your blocks around writing for good and get you writing more often, just a few words at a time.
For writers who still haven’t found their rhythm and don’t have time for long experiments, tracking spreadsheets, or full pomodoros — establish a writing habit that actually fits into your life!
BONUS: This book includes the full 8x8 Challenge: 8 days to implement the very best shortcuts to writing more, 8 minutes at a time! Get access to the live version and do the challenge with me.
Grab The 8-Minute Writing Habit here »
Ready to get on board with dictation (finally)?
Like many tools that have come before it, dictation is a new and exciting opportunity to write better, faster, and smarter. But many writers still believe it’s not for them. Perhaps they’ve tried it in the past and it hasn’t worked. Or perhaps this new technology is confusing, expensive, or frustrating and that’s held them back from taking advantage of it.
If you’re ready to take the next step and learn a new skill set that will give you a huge advantage over what other authors are doing today, grab Dictate Your Book and start working through the challenges that are holding you back from reaping the benefits of dictation.
- Why you need to get started with dictation, even if you tried it before and hated it!
- All of Monica’s best tips for making dictation work for you, whether you writing fiction or non-fiction
- Every piece of equipment Monica recommends, plus half a dozen ways to test dictation before you buy
- Monica’s full setup for her innovative Walk ’n Talks which helped her hit 4,000+ words per hour
For authors who are ready to take their productivity to the next level, this short guide will help you get started!
Grab Dictate Your Book here »
More From Monica:
By the way, if you love frameworks like this one, you will LOVE The Inferno Kit. Start with two frameworks from the kit, 100% free:
- My 3-Step Framework to Get More Email Signups
- The Sales Funnel Gap Analysis Sampler [DOWNLOAD], which helps you look at the first five Stages of Audience for your book and figure out how to improve your marketing at each stage!
Fine! I’ll do it! I’ll admit to my crime: I am a master procrastinator!
Through my university experience, pretty much most, if not all of my essays, and in all of my written exams actually, I have left them last minute. I used to do the International Baccalaureate in high school, which heavily emphasised writing, so it’s easy for me to organise and think up a few hundred words, so sometimes I leave it last minute because I know it’s an easy task for me. But it’s also because I easily get distracted doing other stuff. Normally you’d think that this is a horrible thing and I get bad grades because of it… but strangely enough I usually get good grades in uni. I can only think of once in my first year when I got a below average grade, and very few times I got an average, but none of them were a fail, and most of them I got either an above average, or sometimes a top grade! But why is this so? Why am I such a master at leaving stuff at last minute and always ending up with a good grade?
Well, the answer to this is that… well, I just know how to do it. And I’m not the only one: I bet there are people around the world who can write last minute essays perhaps better than I can. I’ll tell you the stuff here in this article, but let me warn you that what I’m doing here isn’t exactly correct. I think that the best way to procrastinate and leave things last minute is if you don’t. I’d recommend you guys to take your time to organise your essay properly. You’d probably end up with a better grade than usual, because you have more time to proof read your essay, and make multiple drafts until you get it right.
So here are my personal tips to you guys, based on my experience of writing essays, especially through the stuff I learned in the IB, as well as personal experience. I will teach you all: How to Write a Last Minute Essay Like a Pro!
This is rule number one, and perhaps the most important one… no, it’s THE most important rule:
1. PLAN. PLAN. PLAN.
You have to know what your question is about (if you’re choosing between one question out of a list, choose the one that not only you like, but you know you can answer). You have to know what books you need to use. You have to know what you’re going to write.
So if you think you might procrastinate, or will procrastinate for sure, you should do all this beforehand: look back at your notes and write them down for your essay, pick out every single book or source you might find useful to (including drawing on relevant reading, you need tons of resources: at least 5 books from your library, articles, videos, and the rest from online), and of course: write an essay structure (introduction, body and conclusion; and make sure that you know what to write there as well). And if you can, ask your teacher for some tips too (and write those tips down… you won’t believe how easily you forget). Also remember to source the bibliography properly. I’d recommend you to source your books beforehand so that you spend your time writing your content as opposed to trying to spending so much time writing your bibliography. And another thing you should do beforehand is to write an introduction; an idea of what you’re going to write and aim to argue (go search how to write a good essay introduction).
This is obviously important, not just when you’re doing it last minute, but when you’re doing every essay and assignment. You have to know what your assignment’s about and what you’re aiming for. What are your arguments and how do you attempt to explain them? You have to be prepared for these kind of stuff.
What happens when you don’t plan? I’ll give you the scenario: you go to your computer, open Word, stare at your keyboard and then say, “… What the heck am I doing?”
Preparation is key.
2. Online research.
It’s much better if you get more books than online material. You get a much higher mark for researching tons of sources. But if you feel that you’re limited in books that you’ve found, you can find more stuff online. Go to either Google Scholar or Google Books where you can find a range of material for your essay. Search for key words and theorists related to the subject that you’re talking about. Another useful site is EBSCO. All of the stuff you find there, from articles and books, can be useful for what you need to write. But make sure it’s relevant to answering your question. Don’t just include lots of books just because you think it sounds smart. Get a lot of useful information. When you search, type the key words which are relevant to answering your question. Even search the question itself to get an idea of what you should answer. But remember: Do not plagiarise, under any circumstance! Don’t!
3. Keep calm. Relax.
When you’re writing your essay, it’s important to keep a cool head. If you keep whining or complaining about the fact that you didn’t finish your essay or that you won’t be able to finish your essay on time, then you will never get your work done, or at least won’t do your essay properly.
Calm down. You can finish your essay. You can do it. You know you can. You need to keep yourself motivated, and the first step is to calm down and tell yourself that you can do it.
If you just keep yourself focused and relaxed, you’ll be able to do your essay much easier. If you become nervous, it’ll be much harder to work or write anything. You’ll become stressed, and the least you want is to be stressed.
With that said:
4. Take multiple breaks.
I take a lot of breaks every time I work on an essay last minute. Sometimes I was watching YouTube videos, and sending messages on Facebook, etc. I remember once I was watching Johnny Bravo cartoons on YouTube, and that cheered me up a lot (I just realised how much I loved Hanna-Barbera cartoons after that!). I also always move away from the computer to stretch my legs around my home.
Yes, time is of the essence here, but so is your sanity! You’re still a human being, and although work is important, you need to balance it out with play somehow. The moment you feel irritated, taking a break (like a TV break, a short nap, etc) with a certain time limit every time will keep you less stressed about working on your essay… at least it did for me. So far, it’s been very useful.
5. Have snacks.
That’s one thing you can do when having a break, but I like to have snacks while working on an essay as well. Whether it’s something healthy like a banana or an apple, or something like pretzels or a toast and melted butter (yum!) it’ll help you to act calm as you work.
Let’s just hope that by the end of finishing your essay you don’t gain about 5 kilos!
6. Drink lots of water.
If you’re not the kind who likes taking snacks at night, or you’re on a diet, an alternative is lots and lots of water. I once had a jug of water to refill the glass so that I didn’t have to keep going to the kitchen so much! Oh yeah, and you’re gonna want to go to the bathroom for drinking so much water. Bathroom breaks are important too. Duh.
But at the same time, you should always drink water so that you stay hydrated. I would not recommend having soda, because it has tons of sugar, and it doesn’t keep you as hydrated as water does. Your brain needs water too so that you can work.
And my final tip…
7. Learn how to type fast.
Ever wonder why I have so much time to write all these articles? Why I can whip a few hundreds of words so fast? Aside from knowing what I want to write, which is super important, I can type really quickly. An average typer writes about 36 words per minute. I write about 50-60 words per minute! My record so far is about 70! I know this because I did a bunch of typing tests online to check my speed.
Suppose you write a long essay for 10 hours at an average writing speed. Writing over 50 words per minute actually saves you about 4 hours! Writing about 60 words per minute saves up to 4.5 hours within 10 hours! This is really useful when you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. But I know people who are much faster at typing than I am, and they’d be able to finish an essay faster than others. If you can write over 70 words per minute, all the power to ya.
IF you can, practice your typing. Type, type, type until you get used to your keyboard and type really fast. Or go and search for some tutorials on how to type faster. (But at the same time, don’t spend too much time on the computer… Go outside! Play with your friends in the great outdoors!)
And those are my tips to write a last minute essay.
If you’re not planning to procrastinate or leave your essay last minute, the best way is to do your essay little by little before the deadline. Start with getting multiple resources, write tons of notes, write a plan, and each day before the deadline write about one paragraph, which depending on the word count could be about 100-200 words, but that varies from essay to essay. After you’re done writing the paragraphs, make sure the sentences are clear, relevant, flowing and consistent with each other. Include some relevant references, and make sure you write the bibliography. Always proof read the essay for typos or re-writes. Ask your teachers, or friends, or search online how to help you with your essay writing skills.
Again, I’d recommend you guys not to procrastinate! These tips are based on the way I mange to write an essay quickly, and also based on my experiences of writing multiple essays during high school and university. There are some people who have trouble writing essays, so they should obviously not rely on procrastination to do their work, because it’s difficult for them to write an essay. They don’t have the talent of writing super fast or writing their essays well. They should take their time in their work and do it with great care. It won’t always be easy, but that’s the proper way. All joking aside, as addicting as procrastination is for me, it’s nothing but the easy way out. And no, I don’t always procrastinate, I do take careful time and planning in some of my works. Heck, I keep re-writing my articles in my blog because there are always things I want to add or re-write! I only began procrastinating when I started uni. It’s better not to leave it last minute, because that way the essay has more time to take shape, and you can find more ways to re-write it and fix it up. It’s problematic both because of the quality of your essay, and also because of time management. No, you won’t always get a masterpiece even if you take your time, but at least you did take careful time and planning, and you will get a good grade at least (also depending on your experiences with essays). Even if you can write essays really fast and end up with a good grade, I think it’s better to allow the essay to take its time so that you can get an even better grade. I only leave essays last minute because I’m just so used to doing it, and I only get lucky with my essay skills because I’ve had tons of experience writing essays properly, and I kinda know already that I have a talent at writing essays. These tips will probably be much more useful to someone who has done experience with writing essays and mostly getting good grades in them, because they know what they’re doing. Still, I need to get used to organising my time with essays properly so that I can write even better essays instead of rushing them. I need to procrastinate less. That way instead of being a good student, I can be an even better one. And I’d prefer it if others do that too.
Besides, I don’t want to sleep late again!
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