Although all writers have their own speeds when it comes to their creative process, one desire is prevalent among them—wanting to write a book faster.
The aspiration to write a book more quickly could be due to a variety of reasons or circumstances, such as needing to adhere to deadlines (self-imposed or from a publisher), to provide a constant stream of income (specifically, for self-published authors), and more. In addition, most writers wish to dive into the worlds in their heads and have multiple completed works.
Regardless of the reason, many writers strive for efficiency in order to write more books. There’s no judgement or condemnation if you are satisfied with your pace of writing. But if you would like to increase your writerly output, consider utilizing these fourteen tricks.
1. Research your topic in advance
Don’t go into your book without some knowledge of the genre or topic you plan to write. Do your homework in advance. This could mean learning about:
Setting – whether it’s real or fictional
Warfare and weaponry – specifically for fantasy writers
Technology – specifically for science fiction writers
History – specifically for historical fiction or nonfiction writers
The protagonist’s vocation – especially if it’s different from yours
2. Get to know your characters
It’s hard to write a story about a person (or people) you don’t know. Do some exercises before you sit down to write in order to get to know your characters more, such as character questionnaires or profiles.
Before I write, I want to get to know the 1.) protagonist(s), 2.) love interest(s), 3.) main secondary characters, and the 4.) antagonist.
Below are a few examples of what you can write down about each of your characters:
A few of their physical attributes
Quirks or repeat mannerisms
Their surface-level desire/what drives them at the beginning of the book
Their heart’s truest desire (what they need vs. what they think they want)
Their general character arc (how they will change in the beginning vs. the end of the book after the main plot events)
Some writers like to discover who their characters are as they write. However, consider doing some type of exercise to help you get to know your characters first. In addition, record everything about these characters in a separate document so you can go back to your notes later. It’s rather inconvenient if your protagonist starts off the book with blue eyes and ends the book with green eyes.
3. Outline what you will be writing in the upcoming writing session (or more)
Personally, I’m a hardcore plotter and like to outline my entire manuscript. If you’re a plotter as well, consider outlining your entire book before you start writing. However, if you fall on the pantser end of the spectrum (a writer who “flies by the seat of their pants” and doesn’t plan anything out in advance), you may want to write down what you think will happen in the next chapter or scene before you write so you don’t get stuck because you don’t know what’s happening next.
4. Make a writing schedule for the coming week
Some people like to write every day. Some don’t. Some can’t.
Personally, I like to write at the same time every weekday. But that may not work for you. If your schedule is constantly changing due to work or other life circumstances, take a look at your upcoming week and set aside time to write. If you can plan out farther than that, great! If you want to write at the same time every day and thrive on routine (like I do), then consider making an ongoing schedule. But be purposeful about setting aside time for writing so you don’t come to the end of the week and realize you never (or hardly) made time to write.
5. Set realistic daily/weekly goals
Rather than simply saying, “I’m going to write one hour each day,” give yourself goals to hit within those writing sessions or by the end of the week. If you have one hour to write, you may find your mind wandering for part of it or you may not feel motivated to write the entire time. But if you say, “I’m going to sit at my computer to write for one hour each day and aim for 500 words or more,” you have given yourself a tangible goal to work toward.
6. Get in the mindset to write before your writing time
Not everyone can sit down and immediately start writing. Start mentally preparing yourself before you write. That could mean listening to music, lighting a candle, rereading the chapter you wrote before, reviewing your manuscript outline, and so on.
7. Avoid editing as you write
If you want to draft fast, there isn’t time to edit as you write. Take off your editor hat and allow yourself to write words that may suck. Avoid editing until you finish the first draft (if you can), or if you need to edit as you go, consider editing at the end of each chapter (and not while you are drafting).
8. Use placeholders
If you don’t know the name of a character or what to call a planet or city in some fictional setting, add a placeholder. The way I write placeholders will look something like: [PLANET] or [PROTAGONIST’S BFF]. That way, I can search the document for the brackets and easily find the placeholders when I’m editing. In addition, it allows me to continue drafting without having to stop and think about the perfect name.
9. Utilize the Pomodoro Technique (also known as “writing sprints”)
For those of you unfamiliar with the Pomodoro Technique, it’s similar in theory to a writing sprint. It’s a time management method created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo where you work in timed intervals, usually 25 minutes in length, and it’s separated by short breaks.
You only have so much brain power to accomplish a task before you need a break, and you will get more done if you focus entirely on a single project for a shorter time (vs. on multiple projects for a longer period of time).
Personally, I’ve found that writing for 20 minutes, resting for five minutes, and then repeating those timed intervals has increased my writerly output.
Experiment with the time of the intervals to see what works best for you.
10. Set a timer
Going along with the Pomodoro Technique and writing sprints, set a timer for when you are writing vs. resting. That way, you don’t have to be distracted by looking at the clock to see if you are at the end of your writing sprint. You could also set a timer for longer breaks so you don’t use up more time unexpectedly.
11. Write in the same place or at the same time (or don’t)
To make writing a habit, it’s important to be consistent—and sometimes that means writing in the same place or at the same time. Most writers want to get to a point where they write so much that if they don’t write, it doesn’t feel quite right (because the need to write is now ingrained in them). Consider making accompanying habits alongside writing frequently so when you go to the same place to write, for example, your creative brain is ready to go.
On the flip side, rotating your writing location helps some writers to be more productive. For example, writing at a coffee shop may have less distractions or temptations to do things other than writing (vs. writing at home, where you could be distracted by chores or things around the house).
Learn what works for you (either changing things up or making a routine).
12. Track your progress
Keep yourself accountable by tracking your progress. Sometimes, writing down how much you wrote each day and seeing you wrote several chapters by the end of the week is encouragement enough to keep going and working hard.
13. Manage your expectations
Depending on your experience level, you will want to manage your expectations. If this is your first novel, it will likely take you much longer to complete it than it would for someone who has ten books under their belt. Learn what your baseline is. Try out a few writing sprints to see how many words you usually get in a session. Then, work hard to try to increase your productivity and learn to write faster.
14. Don’t be afraid to write a crappy first draft
In the words of Terry Pratchett: “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
Your first draft is supposed to be an imperfect retelling of the perfect story in your head. Give yourself permission to be imperfect as you allow your imagination creative freedom to tell the story of your heart.