How to build writing speed

Some people write slow. Some people write fast. Some people write better slow than fast; some people write better fast than slow.

Regardless, I made it a goal of mine earlier this year to write faster. And better, but I’m not going to talk about that now, because November is for NaNoWriMo, and we want to write fast if we’re writing NaNo.

Here’s how I do it. Your Brain Cells May Vary (YBCMV).

  1. Do the heavy lifting ahead of time. Write a log line (a one- or two-sentence hook for your story) and a query letter for your story. Name your characters and briefly sketch out their relationships to each other. Do some research on the location/time period, or, if your setting is made up, similar locations/times. Write an outline – not a detailed one, because you’re going to change it from time to time, so you don’t want to get too attached to it.
  2. Turn off avoidable distractions.  That means:  no Internet, even for research.  The second your music becomes more important than your writing – it’s off.  With people, it’s best to work out ahead of time how you’re going to handle them.
  3. Destroy your illusions:  You do not need fifteen minutes to get “in the mood to write.”  You do not need a lucky object.  You do not need an uninterrupted span of time.  You do not need to be a prima donna.  If you want to be a working writer, you have to treat writing like a job:  get it done.  Anything in your head that makes you not get it done has to go.  You do not need “more time to write.”  If you’re reading this, you have time to write.
  4. No editing.  Don’t go back and fix it.  Insert a comment and move on.
  5. No research.  Insert a comment and move on.
  6. Turn off spell/grammar check.
  7. Think Zen when it comes to your internal critic.  You’re going to hate what you write; you’re going to love what you write.  What you write is neither as bad OR as good as you think it is.  It’s just a job.  Do your job:  put the words on the paper.  The critical (left) brain will provide commentary; it doesn’t know shit about first drafts, so whatever.  Don’t try to stop criticizing yourself; you’re not writing if you’re trying to shut part of your brain up constantly, the same way you’re not writing if you’re trying to make sure your kids aren’t writing on the walls while you’re typing on the computer.  They want to write on the walls?  Let them.  Your brain wants to tell you this is the crappiest thing you’ve ever written?  Fine.  Blah blah blah, it’s your annoying relative talking at Christmas dinner.  Blah blah blah.
  8. Take breaks.  If you find yourself staring at the ceiling or cleaning out your earwax, take a break.  Do something mindless that DOES NOT INVOLVE THE INTERNET, like cleaning.  My house is never as clean as it is when I’m writing a book.  Give yourself about five minutes every hour; do a mental inventory and make sure you don’t need to use the toilet, eat, stretch, get something hot to drink, etc.
  9. Don’t put snacks next to your computer.  Just don’t.  You can eat lunch at your computer, but don’t put excess calories within arm’s reach.  If you’re doing it right, you won’t even know you’re eating them.
  10. Every session, check your outline.  If necessary, outline what you plan to write that day.
  11. Type.  Type the first thing that comes to mind.  It doesn’t matter if you’ll use it in the final version or not, although if you can swing it that way, it works out a whole lot better.  The only way to write good prose fast is to write a lot of bad prose, whether you write it fast or slow.  Just write it and get it over with.  Think of it as part of the million-word dues you’re going to have to put in before you get good at it.  Pages and pages of description?  Okay.  Stream of consciousness that you use as your character’s internal monologue?  Okay.  When you’re typing, everything is okay.
  12. I could have said this earlier, in point #4, but then I would have misled you:  actually, if you find yourself in the middle of editing (you’re backspacing to correct a typo or whatever), just let it be and finish that quick edit.  Do NOT go back and fix something if you’re already past it.  Be Zen; if those edits clog up your fingers, just go with it, but do not seek them out, and if you can instead add a comment and move on, do it.
  13. Set goals that are not about how fast you type but about whether you get the words done at all:  “As soon as I finish this paragraph, I’m done.”  Page, chapter, a thousand words, reaching five thousand words, whatever.  Set goal after goal after goal.  You can tell yourself those words suck if you like, but meet your goal.  It’s like getting little kids to do stuff:  the first time you set them on a task, it takes all freakin’ day.  As they realize how little left of their day they have to do the other things they want to do, it takes less time…and the result is still the same.
  14. Write every day.  You don’t build the endurance to run a marathon by running for a whole month, once a year.  No way.  Write every day.

Again, make sure this is what you want before you go for it – but it’ll probably work.

Do the job, see the results.

In the end, what you want is a good story, and if you write well, it won’t matter how fast you write it.  But a lot of people are just killed by the slow pace of their writing; they spend years on a book that will never see the light of day, because they write slowly and infrequently, even if they write like freakin’ Shakespeare while they do it.


Test Test Test…


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  1. Excellent advice. The typing thing is something I haven’t tried, but I will now. You might have just saved my life! Now, as the Chinese proverb says, you are responsible for me. See what you got yourself into just by blogging?


    • De

      Ancient Chinese proverb says nothing about being responsible for the quality of your work, however. You’re on your own, there 🙂

  2. Thanks Deanna, I really, really needed this pep talk today.

  3. Now if only I could stick to that writing every day thing… I can do it no problem in November, but the rest of the year? Forget it!

  4. I should write up a writing plan for how to go from couch to 5K, like the running program…

  5. Les

    “Turn off spell/grammar check.”

    Best advice of the whole post!

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