Whether you’re on deadline for a client or your laptop battery is clinging to its final dribs of power mid-writing session, when you’re an active writer, chances are, at some point, you will have to write under tight time pressure.
I’ve had to write under time pressure on many occasions, in different contexts and for different purposes. Read on for tips on how to quickly get from first word to a final written work that you can be proud of — in record time.
Start in your head
Once you know what you will be writing about, use whatever moments you can find to start working. Test out various opening sentences in your head, imagine different structures, daydream on the topic — it all helps you get to a point where, when you sit down to write, the words flow quickly.
Whether you’re jotting bits and pieces down on your phone or scribbling in a journal, the more you record your best ideas and chunks of text ahead of time, the more efficient you’ll be when you next sit at your work station.
If time is of the essence, email, social media, and texts are not. Close unnecessary programs and turn off distracting alerts, along with anything else that will break you out of your flow.
Consolidate your materials
If your work involves research, gather all your source material and put it within arm’s reach. If you’re working on fiction, do you have pictures, poems, objects, journals, or anything else that directly speaks to what you’re working on? Keep it close and easily accessible.
When I’m writing an article that involves interviews, I make sure all of my notes and transcriptions are open and accessible on my laptop; I also keep any webpages containing pertinent background articles open in different tabs in the same browser. This way, I can access any information I need in seconds.
For some writers, jotting down a quick outline can be a huge help. I recommend trying at least a basic roadmap before you begin in earnest. Even if it’s three groupings of two words each, the more you have on paper, the less you have cluttering your consciousness and getting in the way of quick, effective, and efficient writing.
Keep it simple
When you’re writing on deadline, make your sentences as clean, direct, and communicative as possible. Crunch time is not the time for flowery language, complex word games, or other intricate literary devices. Write the words, get it done, move on.
Don’t get sentimental
Did you write something beautiful, but can’t make it work in context? there’s no time to fret and finagle. Cut it out, paste it in a document to save for something else, and move on.
Make it perfect right away — or don’t
When it comes to writing on assignment, I like to follow the advice of an old friend, editor, and mentor: make your writing ready for publication right away. In other words, I spend as much time on a sentence or paragraph as I need to get it right and then move on; then, when I go back to revise, my writing is usually ninety-five percent where it has to be. This often means more of an investment of time on the initial draft, but it works to ultimately cut the time down to go from zero to finished product.
That said, perfecting up front might not work for you. If you prefer to shoot out a very quick, very rough first draft — and then go back and spend the majority of your limited time sculpting and revising — go with it. There’s no right or wrong here, just what will get you to the finish line fastest, with writing you’ll be proud of.
If you’re on a computer, remember to save
Autosave sometimes works, but sometimes doesn’t. Don’t tempt fate. In fact, I am doing this right… now.
Step away, re-read, and revise
When you’re close to done, follow some of the strategies I wrote about in “How To Read, Edit, and Evaluate Your Writing With Fresh Eyes” and clear your brain. Then come back, give the piece a close look from a different perspective, and make any needed changes.
Trust your gut
As with any sort of art, it can be difficult to know when to call a piece of writing done. If you’re on deadline, sometimes the clock makes the decision for you. But better to move fast and trust your instinct instead. I’ve found that the more I write, the more I get a sense of whether something works or doesn’t. The more you do within your own writing career, the more you’ll develop an individual feeling for when a piece needs more work and when it’s strong enough to call finished.
How do you approach writing under time pressure in your work? Tell us in the comments below.
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