Thursday, 15 October 2015

How to write faster and increase your writing output

Every night I cook dinner for my family.

Apart from the two nights I had away with my husband for our 20th anniversary a few months ago, I’ve been cooking dinner for my family every night for about the last 5,840 nights. And every night has gone roughly along the same lines; I spend ages working hard, chopping, preparing and cooking. I serve it up on the plate. We eat, and it’s gone in about 13 minutes flat.

So much time! So much effort! So much energy! And all to see it disappear with hardly another thought.

Writing is like cooking in many ways – it takes a long time to do. Like many of us, I’ve had times where I’ve agonized for three hours on just three paragraphs, getting it perfect.

“Would you read this?” we ask someone. “I’m just not sure about the second word in the fourth sentence, and the juxtaposition of evil and good in the third metaphor.”

Our reader takes a quick look and hands it back. “Yeah, looks okay to me.”

Chew, swallow, move on.

I’ve been mentoring a talented teenage writer for the past year over Skype. She writes, I read and comment, and she rewrites and improves. It’s a fun relationship.

A few months ago she got frustrated. “I’ve got all these ideas, and not much time, and because everything takes so long to do, I don’t end up finishing anything.”

I know the feeling. If only we had more time, we say. But the fact is that we don’t. Life crowds in and swallows up those precious writing hours. “It’s not going to change,” I told her. “The only way out of it is to learn to write quicker. You’ve got to produce more in a shorter time.”

Some writers will be horrified to hear this. “What about quality?” they will argue. “What about the second word in the fourth sentence and the juxtaposition of evil and good in the third metaphor? How can I write if the muse has not struck?”

Let me say this: learning to write more quickly, at the same or better level of quality, is possible. It’s possible in all other areas of life, so why not writing?

When I cook dinner, I’m a bit of a ditherer. The reason it takes me a long time is because half the time I’m still cleaning the kitchen from lunch time, or I’m checking facebook, or I’m making a shopping list. My mind is frequently very much elsewhere. I'm well known to be *that* mother who burns the dinner because she's still writing emails.

And then I watched Masterchef. Those guys produce three course banquets in less time than it takes me to cut up a bowl of salad. They think, they grab ingredients and they multitask so it works.  The whole dish comes together within the ridiculous time slot.

These people aren’t freaks of nature (although they obviously ended up with talents for food and flavour that I just don’t have.) What they’ve learned is how to organise themselves, how to manage tasks, and how to keep going and how to solve problems that pop up as they go.

They cook fast because they’ve learned how. And their quality doesn’t suffer.

We writers can write fast if we learn how. And our quality doesn’t have to suffer either.

Here’s how I’ve doubled my writing output over the past year.
1.       Set aside the time. Dedicate it entirely to writing.
2.       Turn off Facebook and all the other distractions.
3.       Have a good ergonomic setup so your body stays comfortable.
4.       Plan your writing before you start. I always know what I’ll be focusing on that day, with a reasonably detailed idea of where my piece is going (although I’m open to things the characters might do on their own)
5.       Tell your inner editor to sit down. Their turn comes later. It’s writing time right now. Editing comes after that. They can have a nap and relax.
6.       If you get to a bit you can’t write, don’t stop. Just bunny hop over it and go on to the next bit. You can come back later.
7.       Just write it. Accept that you’re not a bad writer, or a terrible person if you write a draft that’s not superb. A bad first draft is better than no first draft.
8.       Practice this at least twice a week for two months and see how much quicker you get.
9.       Set yourself a deadline to finish your draft and do the maths about how many writing sessions you’ll have, and how many words you’ll need to do to get there.

10.   Just do it. 

Cecily Paterson is the author of three novels for young teen girls, and an award-winning memoir, Love Tears & Autism. She is a freelance editor and writer and has just published the best-selling Meditations Bible colouring book by Lorien Atwood.


  1. Hi Cecily - thanks for a great blog. Some fantastic tips there. Actually, it sounds a lot like what works with NaNoWriMo. Of course, then you have to factor in time for editing, revising and more editing. And I'm learning just how much time it takes to turn a manuscript into a published book. Like some intricate French pastry - what takes days, months, even years to produce can be consumed in mere hours. But what an experience :)

    1. Yes, the editing takes a long time too, but honestly, I'd rather edit and rewrite than do the first draft.

  2. Great advice, Cecily. Sharing on FaithWriters FB page.

  3. Hi Cecily,
    I remember how we were amazed by your productivity when you were a guest on my blog last year. Thanks for this interesting post which just adds to it, with some great insight.

  4. Wow, thanks for this wonderful post Cecily. I know I must work on being more disciplined. I get distracted so easily and end up trying to multi-task. Not a good plan really. There are some wonderful tips here - so now to go and adopt some of them.

    1. I'm a sucker for distractions as well. I've had to work hard to focus.

  5. Thanks for your excellent, practical insights, Cecily. I particularly agree with Number 10! Sometimes it's a matter of taking a deep breath, praying hard and plunging in!

  6. Thanks Cecily. Good work on doubling your output. What you say is so true. I did the NaNoWriMo virtual cabin in July and wrote 30 000 words. I've hardly written anything since then and really need to get back into it. When you have a plan and then just make the time regardless, it happens. It's amazing how all of those little bits add up. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Great advice Cecily. Thank you. And well done for doubling your output. That's awesome. It's very true that we have lots of time wasters on our hands - and we need to cut them out and focus! I know God will hold us accountable for our use of time. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Its all so true, so why do I have trouble following such a simple plan? I can write first drafts easily following these guidelines. But to edit? Ah I'm so slow and so critical of my own work. But I'm determined to allocate the time as soon as I get back from conference.

    1. Ha! You need an editor. I would way rather edit than do a first draft... (:

  9. Lovely to read such plain common sense. In fact, I am speed cooking my dinners now so I can get back to my writing!