My mom taught herself how to speed read. She tried to explain it to me once, but I wasn’t really listening because I have no interest in reading faster. I like meandering my way through a book. It’s relaxing. But becoming a faster writer? Sure, sign me up. So when I saw the recent slate.com article by Michael Agger, entitled “Slowpoke: How to be a faster writer,” I stopped what I was doing and read it. Then I read all the comments, which pretty much echoed my own opinion. He did a great job outlining the problem:
The writer’s brain is juggling three things: the actual text, what you plan to say next, and—most crucially—theories of how your imagined readership will interpret what’s being written. A highly skilled writer can simultaneously be a writer, editor, and audience.
But then he didn’t really offer any real, solid, actionable tips. So, I’m going to give you some of my own.
1.) Use the Internet (the right way). I’m old, but not old enough to have ever worked before the Internet. I’ll be honest. I’m not sure how anyone ever got anything done on time. As a copywriter, I have to write about a million different topics, from the steel industry to gourmet coffee to children’s footwear. And I am expected to at least sound like I know what I’m talking about. So here is my rule of thumb: Yes: Googling the topic you have to write about and reading the top hits. No: Googling ex-boyfriends to procrastinate. (Turn off Facebook, too.)
2.) Write a really crappy first draft. This is a tip I am borrowing from my grad school professor and it works. The hardest part of writing is just getting started and this is a great way to get over that hurdle. Like slamming a shot, rather than sipping your wine, just go for it. Get what’s in your head out of your head and on the screen. It doesn’t matter how it sounds or if your thoughts connect. We are great at getting in our own way. Freeing yourself up from having to “sound good” often produces the best writing. Just start typing.
3.) Set an unrealistic time limit and try to meet it. I don’t love being under the gun. In fact, it is the main reason I decided not to become a journalist. (Well, that and the long hours for crappy money.) But it is amazing what you can get done when you are really focused, and nothing brings focus like a deadline. Even a self-imposed one. Reward deadlines are the best. The one I use the most involves working until X o’clock, then rewarding myself with a Rice Krispies treat from the coffee shop next door.
There. Those are my best tips. I’d love to hear yours if you’ve got ’em.