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7 Ways to Speed Up Your Writing

freelance writerA guest post by Mridu Khullar Relph

On my to-do list this week are the following items: assignment for national magazine, revisions for piece submitted to international newspaper, guest posts for three blogs for writers, blog posts for my own blog, a blog post for a magazine blog, tweets and status updates for a promotional campaign I’m running on Facebook and Twitter, and two chapters for my novel-in-progress.

Modern writers today don’t have the luxury of spending eight years penning a literary novel (not if they don’t have a day job, anyway) and if you’re a freelance writer, you already know how important it is to diversify and keep those articles, blog posts, and tweets coming, not only because they’re going to bring in the moolah, but because they’re going to help promote the books and products that bring in the moolah.

However, if you’re anything like me, you’re ready and raring to go on all these things, the excitement palpable as you shut the office doors, put on the noise-cancelling headphones and open up that white blank page with all its potential. And that’s when you come to a screeching halt.

As a modern writer with many irons in the fire, you’re going to have to learn to write frequently and write it fast. Here’s what’s worked for me.


1. Write. Then revise.
Perfection is a beast most of us will have to grapple with and I’m no exception. Even though I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words and should, by now, know better, I still expect perfection to flow from my fingertips each time I sit down to write. It never happens and for me, it helps to know that there’s a revision in my future. So instead of spending an hour making that first paragraph brilliant, just write what comes to mind (my opening for this blog entry is still unwritten as I type this; I’ll come back to it later) and worry about the quality of the words in later revisions. Vomit out all the information from your brain to the paper and then spend the next phase of the process revising it.

2. Use the TK marker.
One of my most time-consuming habits is the need to look up things while I’m writing. If there’s a hole in my research, off I’ll go into Internet-land, to find what I need. And while I’m there, I might as well quickly take a peek at Facebook as well, right? And read that article my friend posted. And the “suggested read” just below that one. Before I know it, I’ve lost precious minutes (okay, hours) derailing myself from the task at hand. Even if I haven’t procrastinated on social networks, it’s likely I’ve done far more research than I’ve needed because to convince a writer that they’re working all you need to do is give them something to research. I’ve learned over the years, howeer, to simply leave that bit of information out, put TK where it’s supposed to go, and do that extra research all together after I’ve finished that first draft.

3. Tell that internal editor to get out of your face.
It’s easy to focus on the tiny little details (is it “p’s and q’s” or “ps and qs”?) and forget the big picture when you’re writing. It’s not you, it’s that bugger internal editor who can’t help him or herself. Just ask it, not too politely, to shut up for now and return when it’s time for you to edit spellings, grammar, and sentence structures. For now, just focus on the thought.


4. Organize the piece. Then fill in the blanks.
This won’t work for everyone, but sometimes, it really helps to structure the piece and make a skeleton of your article by noting down the points that need to be made and the structure in which you’ll make them. Then, once you’ve got a list of things you need to say, fill in the blanks.

5. Set a fixed writing time.
As a new-ish mom, I’ve realized that if I don’t hunker down and do the work in the time I’ve allotted for it, there’s a good chance that I’m not going to be able to finish it at all, that I’ll end up missing deadlines, or worse, having a nervous breakdown, because that’s what missing deadlines does to me. My current writing schedule includes a two-hour stint from midnight to 2 a.m. when the whole world is asleep around me and because I know that I won’t get this time again for another 24 hours, I just sit down and bang the words out. You know what? It works. (It’s 12.30 a.m. now.)

6. Race against the clock.
Because I’m easily distracted, I tend to write in 25-minute bursts. I use MyTomatoes.com, a tool I’ve recommended to hundreds of writers by now and who first scoff and then come thank me for helping them discover how productive they can be. If you have the clock ticking for 25 minutes and you’re accountable at the end of those 25 minutes, trust me, you’ll be getting right back to your writing instead of checking e-mail or reading yet another blog. And if the work is really boring, well, it’s only 25 minutes, right?

7. Keep those fingers moving.
Once you’ve started writing, don’t stop! Don’t stop to check e-mail, don’t stop for a break. For those 25 minutes (or however long you’ve decided to go), just challenge yourself to keep on going. It’s a bit like running. Starting is hard, and there will be times when you’ll have to slow down because it seems like your legs can’t hold your weight any longer, but just keep pushing. The End is in sight.

How do you stay productive?

Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, Time magazine, The International Herald Tribune, Marie Claire, Ms., Elle, and hundreds of other national and international publications. Check out her tips for writers on her blog (http://www.mridukhullar.com/journal) and connect with her on Twitter (@mridukhullar) or Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/MriduKhullarRelph).  She’d love to hear from you.

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{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Very helpful tips Mridu!
    I personally loved #1, 3 and 4. That’s where most of my time goes when I sit to write. Obsessing over one para or the beginning, I lose track of all the other thoughts on the idea. By the time I come to the end of the article, I just want to finish it as soon as possible and can’t give much thought. Have tried these tips and it did help. Thanks! 🙂
    Neelima V recently posted..2 Weeks in Andaman – Photos of Tropical ParadiseMy Profile

    • Neelima, glad it helped… and thanks for telling me so.

  • Oooh, these are great tips. I am on my way to check out the pomodoro technique. Thanks for sharing.
    Terry recently posted..Lucas, The Stinkbugs, and CarterMy Profile

  • Thank you so much, guys! I’m loving your responses. As a newly-harried mom, I’m practicing what I preach every day.
    Mridu Khullar Relph recently posted..On Eye Injuries, Dengue, and Unruly Household AppliancesMy Profile

  • Two things that work for me when writing fast that I’d like to add…one is ‘writing music’ or ‘flow music.’ Over time I’ve trained my brain to respond to a certain CD – and once I put headphones on and start my writing playlist it’s like immediately jacking into the creative hemisphere of the brain.

    Plus it’s what Stephen King calls ‘closing the door.’

    The second one is the power of a deadline. I’ve found that if I have a deadline that’s painful to break, that resistance will slide out of the way and actively co-operate to make me produce content. As an example…in my ‘day job’ I create a 50 page magazine EVERY SINGLE WEEK. This week is Issue 162, so the deadline thing has been working for a while! (Plus it gets published at 5PM GMT every Friday, and some weeks I don’t start until 9.00 AM on thursday.)

    So flow music. And deadlines. Both work like a charm.
    J.J.Foxe recently posted..8 Marketing Lessons For Writers From John Locke’s “How I Sold A Million eBooks”My Profile

    • Interesting re the music… I find baroque helps me generate ideas. And yes, I’ve written to a lot of deadlines. In the beginning of my writing career I had no idea some deadlines could be slipped… when I discovered that I decoded to ignore it… how many words in your magazine?

  • Michael Davis

    Sometimes writing a lot of content can feel overwhelming. Instead of looking at a ten-page report or a list of twenty blog posts, break them down into smaller bites.

    If you have ten articles to write, then write three and take a break. Come back, write three more and then take a break. Try to write for no longer than an hour at a time without taking a break.
    Michael Davis recently posted..פתרונות VPSMy Profile

    • Small bites, baby steps, dividing the work – all those work for me too, Michael.

  • Really useful tips Mridu! Especially #3 and #6 . While researching and writing, I, often, end up reading some other stuff and lose my precious time that I set for my writing!
    Vandana Singhal recently posted..Garnish your content before presentingMy Profile

    • Sometimes those sidetracks are a good thing… the trick, I suppose, is learning how to limit them.

  • Chloe Louise

    Before you begin writing your content, plan it out. Decide exactly what you’re writing about. Create the structure for your piece.

    For example, if you’re writing a “how to”, then outline the steps you’re going to include in your article. If you’re writing an informative article, then what information are you going to share to support your headline?

    Are you writing a tips article or report? If so, what tips are you going to write about? Create the structure and plan your content before you write it.
    Planning your content can be accomplished in a few minutes and you’ll cut your writing time in half.

  • Great tips Anne!

    Creating that skeleton-style outline works well for me. I map out the intro, conclusion, and subheadings or list info. Then I go back and fill things in. I usually do it in order, but the perk of this method is that you don’t have to. If the thoughts are flowing freely for one point, I start there, and let it guide the rest.
    Jenn Mattern recently posted..Why I Gave up an $18k Writing Gig Over Professional EthicsMy Profile

    • Jenn, I hate outlining so I fool myself by creating lists… with subheads etc., and order them. Then I write to them too… that is, I often actually use that list as a way to start the article/book etc.

  • jorgekafkazar

    Good stuff, Mridu! Thanks.

    • Waving, Jorge. Always glad to see you here.

  • Excellent tips, Mridu. #1 & #3: Yep, that incessant need for perfection can keep you from ever putting words to paper (or computer screen). Getting all the ideas out of your head is such good advice. Once it’s all out there, you can go back to revise and make it “pretty.”

    #5: I’m a mom of 4 so I know just what you mean about the absence of uninterrupted writing time. I have more of it now that my kids are all in school, but I’ve discovered my most productive time to write is from 4a.m. – 6.am. It’s so still and quiet and I just seem to concentrate better (even without coffee!).

    #6: I do a simplified version of the technique you described with an egg timer. I set mine for 30 minute increments throughout my workday to stay focused.

    #7: I really need to work on this one…

    When I have lots of different projects going on at once, I can easily get overwhelmed; and when I’m overwhelmed, I start reading books and blogs as an escape and of course end up doing nothing writing-related. It helps me to start each day with a list prioritizing what needs to be done so I can slow down and concentrate on crossing one task from the list at a time without the anxiety. It doesn’t seem as insurmountable that way. Awesome post!
    Kimberly recently posted..4 Tips for Building Solid Client RelationshipsMy Profile

    • Kimberly, it’s so much harder with little kids… but they do grow up, I promise.

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