How to Write Faster to Meet Your Writing Goals

man writing on a laptop while flying through the air

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

I don’t expect there’s any task on Earth that is done best with a confused mind. Clarity of purpose is key when trying to do anything well, and that certainly is true when it comes to being a better writer. If you strive to be efficient and want to write faster and with purpose, gaining clarity is step number one.

If you’re endeavoring to write a novel, or complete any writing task, it’s always helpful to set goals, use the right tools, and employ tricks of the trade to maximize your efforts and make the most of your time spent writing.

How to set writing goals

When working on a novel — or indeed any writing project — it’s often necessary to break the assignment into smaller segments and set goals to accomplish them. If a novel is the proverbial elephant, you can’t eat it in one bite. Even for a fast writer, a novel — even a novella or short story — is a multi-week, multi-month, or multi-year endeavor.

And, while you probably already know this, let me remind you to use the SMART goal-setting approach for best results. That means you need to set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-oriented goals. Let’s apply this to your novel.

Specific

“I want to write a novel” is specific in its way, but it is far too broad for practical application. Setting a deadline — I want to complete my novel’s first draft by February 21st — is one way to make it more specific. But goals can be much less ambitious: I want to write every day, I want to finish five chapters before I schedule my vacation, I want to finish my book outline before the end of the month.

Measurable

All the suggestions above are measurable, and the more you can apply this metric, the better. Perhaps you set a daily time allotment: I will write for 45 minutes every day. Maybe it’s a word count: I will write at least 1,000 words every day.

Achievable

I’m writing my entire this book this weekend is specific and measurable, but unattainable. While stretching yourself may be a good idea, don’t strive to attain what cannot be done — it’s a surefire way of putting out the fire that is your desire to write.

Realistic

Setting unrealistic writing goals is another sure way to defeat yourself and feel worse about the entire process. So, perhaps, rather than daily goals, set weekly goals. I will write for at least 5 hours this week. I personally find a weekly approach works better as it provides me the chance to bundle my time and have days available to be completely away from a computer.

Time-oriented

Long-term goals are excellent, but setting goals that are immediately achievable are what you’re after. Some days, I’ll plan out every hour to really keep me on target. As a freelance writer, it’s easy to get caught up in a task and feel like another 20 minutes and I can be done with this! Then, that 20 minutes turns into 90 and you’ve eaten up the time you scheduled for writing. Make a plan, block out your time, and stick to it.

Tips for writing faster

Once your SMART goals are set, let’s get to making the most of your allotted writing time.

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Avoid distractions

Being in a comfortable, conducive environment is one way to improve your writing speed. I find that most advice related to your “ideal writing environment” focuses on eliminating distractions, and that’s certainly a good place to start if you want to find your writing flow.

If you need an Internet blocker, go for it, but I believe simplicity is the key. Which means, if you’re not actively looking something up, don’t have any browser windows open — especially if they have automated videos, gifs, or pop-ups. Those things drive me bananas.

I do most of my writing via computer, and when writing, I only open the programs I need to write. No email, no Internet (unless I need it to look something up), no Spotify or YouTube — and my phone is usually not in the same room. It’s easy to lose 40 minutes checking email and reading a couple of headlines. Texts can wait. Noodling around can wait. So yes, avoid distractions.

Create your ideal writing environment

But beyond that, you need to be comfortable, you need to be able to see, and you need the right tools for your trade. I have three workstations in my home, and I’ll go to the one that speaks to me (or is the most private) when I’m ready to work. I much prefer an external keyboard and mouse (as opposed to the track pad and laptop keyboard), and a big screen seems more and more necessary as my old eyes get older.

Set up a space with good lighting, a comfortable seat, a desk or workstation at a height that promotes good posture, a large monitor, and room for a beverage — for me that’s usually a seltzer water, but your choice of drink may vary. I also have a portable standing desk that works well on my dining room table, and sometimes, just changing my position (from sitting to standing) goes a long way toward speed, efficiency, and clear thinking.

I’ve seen a lot of advice regarding the “ideal environment” as being a coffeeshop or library. For me, that’s a terrible idea. I find all the bustle and noise immensely distracting. But that’s the thing — one size does not fit all. Do what works best for you, and experiment to figure out what that is.

Leverage writing tools

The Do's and Don'ts of Planning a Book LaunchThere are specialized programs for novel writing, and there may be a writing tool out there that really helps you be a faster writer. We’ve showcased Scrivener in a previous blog post, and Hemingway Editor is another that comes to mind. And certainly, these and other programs can help you stay organized and even give you real-time feedback — so if you think that’s useful, try them out.

I use a combination of word processors — Microsoft Word (on a Mac) and a text editor — and always have a notebook and pens on hand. I strip away as much formatting as possible from my working document and use a no-nonsense font (I prefer Arial when composing and editing), a uniform font size, and limit formatting to bold, italics, and highlights. For me, this is a predictable environment with no distractions, and it helps me focus on my writing process so I can work faster and produce quality content.

Timers and motivational tools

You’ll find plenty of writing tips that suggest using a timer or a stopwatch, or employing the Pomodoro Technique — which is basically a fancy use of a timer. Once again, if that serves you and produces results, go for it.

For me, that’s just more unnecessary stuff to worry about. I do the opposite. I make certain there are no clocks visible. If I really need to monitor or cap my writing session, then yes, maybe I’ll set an alarm clock to let me know I’ve reached my time limit for the day. I’m better off losing my sense of time if I want to get into the writing flow.

The notion of working against a timer is one sure way to get me completely out of my comfortable writing space and will not produce quality writing. I’m certain others feel differently, and if the idea of racing the clock to get you to write faster is just the ticket, grab an egg timer from your kitchen and place it at your writing workstation.

Use placeholders and highlights

To keep my writing flow, I try to eliminate — or at least limit — the time spent spinning my wheels searching for the perfect word or worrying whether I’ve spelled something wrong.

Instead, I’ll write something — anything — highlight it, and continue writing. For example, five paragraphs ago, I was struggling with the best way to convey an idea, but rather than stop the flow and ruminate, I used the highlighter feature in Word to color the phrase I wasn’t pleased with. Then, when reviewing and editing this piece, I took the time to polish that part up.

You can use other methods to call out these unfinished sections: put your questionable word choice in a [bracket], use some sort of shorthand, or color the text to make it stand out.

In the context of a larger work, you could spend one of your writing sessions just hunting through your manuscript for these highlighted sections. It’s one reason I prefer setting time goals (I’ll write for an hour today) as opposed to word-count goals. If I’ve got a fit of writer’s block or I’m just not feeling it, I can still put that hour (or whatever) to great use cleaning up my rough draft.

Don’t edit!

This tip goes hand-in-hand with the point above — if you’re trying to write faster, don’t edit while you write.

5 Steps to Self-PublishingNow, I don’t subscribe to that doctrine 100 percent. Take this piece, for instance. I started it, got about 1,000 words in, then stepped into the kitchen to get a bite. When I got back, I started reading the piece from the beginning and made a few edits, corrected a few typos, and basically sunk into the tone and language. Then, when I got to the end of what I had written, I carried on writing.

But, for sure, spending time trying to get every word absolutely right and dwelling on spelling in your first draft is not a practical method of getting work done quickly. Save the editing for another time. Get your ideas on paper and let your fingers just try to keep up with your brain.

Release the idea of perfectionism

As Grant Faulkner stated in “Your First Draft is Beautiful — Even if it is a Beautiful Mess,” the idea of perfection in your first draft is useless. No published novel on Earth was a first draft. Well, I’m sure that’s not true, but the point remains: fast writing is impossible if you seek perfection in as you write.

Let’s take that a step further: actual writing perfection doesn’t exist. There’s always another way to phrase something, another word, another angle. Your job is to do your very best to convey the emotions, the events, the story you’re trying to tell. Seeking to improve your work in a rewrite makes sense. Endlessly poring over your work in search of perfection is a recipe for madness.

Track word count progress

There are different length requirements and expectations for different formats of the written word. A short story is usually capped at 20,000 words. A novella is typically somewhere between 20,000–40,000 words. A novel is pretty much anything over 50,000.

Unless you have an assignment or deadline with a word-count quota, or you have a specific goal for your finished piece, getting hung up on word count is not always productive. That said, setting word-count goals can be a motivator, and tracking how many words you were able to produce in your scheduled writing time can be helpful in setting future goals or expectations. But word count is less important than the quality of your writing, so make sure you focus on the latter.

Quality vs. quantity

Yes, it’s important to strike a balance between how fast you write and the quality of the material you produce. No one’s going to be impressed with how quickly you wrote a lousy novel. Always focus on the quality of your writing, the voice in your writing style, and the depth of your characters.

You can optimize the speed at which you write by following some of the advice in this post, and hopefully achieve the perfect symmetry between speed writing and sublime prose.

Let’s get your book published

Of course, once you’ve completed your manuscript and had a professional edit, call the experts at BookBaby at 877-961-6878 and let us transform your work into a beautifully bound and published book.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Would love to see a blog article on how to focus more on getting off the “writing by the seat of one’s pants” to a strict outlined author. Everyone has a different style in writing their manuscript (Story Board, outline format of scenes/chapters and even, brace yourself a maze—-I’m a math geek whose ability to learn to go from textbook write to fiction has been an exponential curve) Great article….Just wish is was in book form—I have trouble reading on the laptop for a long period of time.

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