Perfecting the Art of Writing Quickly: 5 Tips


Right now, I’m sitting at Bradley International Airport in Hartford, CT, waiting to board a plane bound for O’Hare in Chicago. I’m attending a Web conference in Iowa, and I have 30 minutes until boarding begins. I also have a blog post to write, another assignment to proofread, and myriad other writing tasks that are demanding my attention.

Since I’ve never been a particularly fast writer, I’ve developed a few strategies to move content quickly that circumvent my natural (tortoise) writing process. Here are the tricks I’ve learned for when you’ve got to write, on a schedule, on deadline, or in the 30 minutes you’re waiting at an airport terminal.

Over the past 5 years since I’ve graduated college and exited the world of (what seemed to me like) virtually unlimited free time to think and write and lay on lawns mown by someone else in a beach towel with my laptop and water bottle, it’s been a struggle for me to master the art of writing quickly. I found it so difficult, in fact, that one of my writing “rituals” was ensuring that I’d blocked off at least two, maybe even three hours of pure, unadulterated writing time.

(These long, uninterrupted stretches present their own problem, but that’s another post.)

But when I graduated from college, that particular writing habit became a writing block that prevented me from actually writing in any meaningful fashion. I never had the time to feel comfortable enough to make a meaningful effort. But that, like so many other problems, was all in my head.

Here’s how I fixed it.

5. Write out loud.

I’ve extolled the virtues of writing out loud many, many times, but it bears repeating when the topic is speed-writing. There’s just some sort of additional thought-to-face filter* that engages subconsciously whenever I’m speaking, and that filter is a helpmate to me when I’m trying to crystallize my thoughts on the run.

Now, if only this filter actually filtered all the dumb things I frequently say! Then it’d be worth something.

* Technical term. 

4. Grab the magnifying glass.

Our minds are nothing if not unruly; pulling in and pondering the complexities and nuances of your tone and themes can leave you stymied, paralyzed and frustrated when you’re trying to pull off a writing mission in under an hour (or whatever your timetable). Instead, grab a magnifying glass to focus just on the word you’re writing, and nothing else.

But I don’t have a magnifying glass.

Okay, then remember this: NO RE-READING. Just write until the last sentence is finished. Re-reading is time-wasting when you’re still in the drafting process.

3. Dump the clock; set an alarm.

The clock face becomes a watchful eye when I’m rushing to finish a piece of writing, or trying to squeeze in some creative time. If I’m sitting in the shadow of a ticking clock, I feel it like a weight on my wrists. It’s demotivating. I start checking Facebook because that clock’s got some corner of my mind already convinced that I won’t make it.

Dump the clock. Get an alarm. Not an alarm clock, just an alarm. A smartphone app, perhaps; something you can put face-down so you can put missing deadline out of your mind and get on with your business, even if you’re sitting in the airport waiting for something critical, like the call to board.

2. Look busy. Very busy.

People are another obstacle to you making your deadlines and getting your writing done on time (spoken like the true people person that I am). I think teenagers who walk around with chunky, colorful headphones have the right idea, actually, because I certainly do not want to engage someone with headphones in conversation.

Your goal is to look busy. So busy, in fact, that people daren’t approach you. You’re projecting a force field of busyness. You are doing lifesaving writing. You’re AT WORK. Get bright headphones (iPhone earbuds work) and put them on, even if there’s no sound coming out.

Protip: Sunglasses are also helpful for not making accidental eye contact and for essentially looking as off-putting as possible.

1. Relax

Panic sets in at some point in almost every project, and it’s a saboteur of productivity. Even though you’re rushing and rushing, less is getting done. But how easy is it for me to just tell you to relax, without offering at least one helpful tip for getting to that point? (One that doesn’t waste time, too?)

Everyone’s relaxation recipe is different, but here’s something that helps me dial back the panic just enough to let me write what I need to: About 30 seconds with my eyes closed. That’s it. For some reason, eyes open equals ticking clocks, sources of stress, and a variety of non-fun thought patterns that stop me in the writing process, cold.

What are your favorite ways to write quickly and hit deadlines? Any I missed? Share them in the comments!