3 Ways to Be More Productive When You Sit Down to Write

3 Ways to Be More Productive When You Sit Down to Write

When I started freelancing back in 2010, all I knew was that making money online as a writer and editor was possible, and I’d be able to figure it out along the way.

While I certainly had my share of challenges (and a few awesome resources like The Write Life to help me out), I did have one thing going for me: A journalism degree. Because of my journalism coursework, I knew how to write well and quickly.

Knowing how to “write fast” makes a huge difference in your ability to earn more income. As a writer, you don’t get paid for your ideas; you get paid for the content you produce.

If you can become more efficient at the actual craft of writing, you’ll be able to produce more in the same amount of time, which means you’ve got the potential to earn more.

So how can you become the blazing-fast writer with the healthier bottom line?

1. Learn to touch type

The average person can type 36 words per minute (WPM) on a regular keyboard. The average person who can touch type — type without looking at the letters on the keyboard — can do an average 58 WPM. That’s nearly twice as fast!

Here’s the thing: It’s not unthinkable that you could double the touch-type average. On a slow day, my typing speed is 112 WPM. Getting words from my head through my fingers and onto the screen is no longer a limiting factor in my productivity.

In fact, it’s not that uncommon for me to write 1,000 words in 20 minutes or less when I’m familiar with the subject matter.

Just think about what your effective hourly rate would be if you could charge a flat fee for each of two or three 1,000-word posts that took you an hour in total to write.

Take the free typing test at TypingTest.com and find out how you stack up. Then, look for opportunities to increase your typing speed. Free training is available online, including at the test website.

When you’re away from your keyboard, use any mental down-time — like when you’re sitting at a traffic light, waiting in line, or stuck in a meeting — to practice typing. Song lyrics, snippets of conversations (real or imagined), even your mental to-do list can be discretely tapped out on an imaginary keyboard, or invisibly “typed” in your mind.

2. Use outlines

Outlines are hands-down one of my most important productivity tools. They’re taught in English class for a reason: Developing an outline is a tremendously efficient way to write.

Even though it might seem like it’s a waste of time, making an outline sets you up to write incredibly more quickly when the time comes.

Even if you’re just jotting down three bullet points on a topic you know well, having an outline will save you all kinds of time when you’re doing the actual writing.

Think about it: How long would it take you to come up with a 900-word blog post if you had to sit down and type it from the beginning, without making any notes to yourself? Maybe an hour?

Now imagine how long it would take you to sit down and write 900 words if you already had a two-sentence overview and three bullet points with one or two sentences to explain or expand each one. Much faster, right?

Once you’ve drafted an outline, you already know what you’re going to write about and you’re already pretty familiar with the subject matter because you’ve already researched it (or you specialize in that niche).

You’ve effectively set yourself up to blaze through the assignment.

The time it takes to sketch out an outline plus the time it takes to write it up is almost always less time than if you’d sat down and written the whole thing from scratch.

3. Leave clues for yourself

Many of us go into freelancing for the flexibility. Flexibility is great — it’s one of the biggest perks of being a freelance writer — but it also comes with the understanding that you won’t necessarily have six to eight uninterrupted hours for working each day.

The trouble is, interruptions and irregular working hours can completely kill your productivity if you don’t handle them properly.

The way I deal with my on-again, off-again work schedule is to leave myself clues when I leave my keyboard.

If I’m wrapping up for the day, I jot down the first two or three things I need to do when I get back to work. If I’m leaving an outline unfinished, I’ll make notes at the bottom of the document about what I need to research next. If I’m in the middle of typing up an article, I don’t need to do anything because I’ve got my outline to tell me where to pick up.

Whether it’s a comment in a Google Doc, a short “do this next” list, or highlights on the scratch pad where you brainstorm, plan your next steps before stepping away from any task.

Do it while you’re already in the thick of the project, while the next steps are pretty obvious.

Then, when you come back to work, you won’t waste time getting reacquainted and then figuring out what to do next. You already figured it out for yourself!

What’s your favorite strategy for being more efficient as a writer?

Filed Under: Freelancing

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47 comments

  • Lem Enrile says:

    Wow! 112 WPM? That’s awesome. I can only do an average of 60 WPM. I should practice more.

    • 60 is still pretty good! With just a little practice, I bet you’ll be in the 3 digits.

    • Wendy says:

      Just what I was going to say. I still remember the touch-typing they taught us back in sixth grade, but even so, I can only get to 40-50 words–if I know what I’m typing. (Doesn’t help that my laptop has this tendency to “not hear” the shift key, and sometimes it can take me five tries to get the “T” key to register.) Plus I ahve this strange tendency to ahve letters kicked around–sometimes when I’m positive I’ve struck them in the right order. I’ve been logging my word counts as I work on this book I’m typing/editing, and when I have to be glancing over at the manuscript and compare it to what I’ve got on-screen (and then find my spot on the manuscript again), I only end up doing about 20 wpm.

  • Advice I’m going to put to use immediately, thanks!

  • Viv Drewa says:

    Thank you for the info. I think it’s going to be very helpful even though I’ve been writing for three years now. @v@ <3

  • Darren Goerz says:

    I am just getting some traction as a freelance writer, and am sometimes overwhelmed. These ideas will definitely help.
    Thanks

    • Traction is awesome! Outlining and the “clues” will be a big help if you’re trying to work on multiple projects at once. If you have any questions, you can always get in touch here or with me directly 🙂

  • All great tips!

    I’ve also found that my productivity on my writing projects has been improved by periodically doing very short timed exercises. For example, take a provocative prompt such as a title or a first sentence and then spend five minutes writing a “sketch.” The resulting passage might be a description of a character for a screenplay, a paragraph that might appear in the middle of a novel or short story, an argument that might be used in an essay on a social issue, or whatever else your imagination can generate on a tight deadline.

    I find that this kind of exercise forces me to tap into my creative reservoir quickly, and sharpens my skills for later fee-paying projects. The payoff has been big for such a small investment of time. (Really, who can’t find five minutes a day to invest in becoming a more productive and creative writer?)

    About a year ago, I started compiling collections of prompts, and I sell them through my shop on Etsy. Eventually, I hope to add a shop to my editing website, because I think the exercises would be very helpful to some of my editorial clients.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources
    epiclesisconsulting.com
    epiclesisconsulting.etsy.com

    • That’s a great idea! I never really dove into creative writing (journalism school girl here) but even some nonfiction could benefit from that. Hmm.. I’ll have to think about that!

  • I was a full-time corporate writer for 15 years before recently going part-time freelance. These are great tips.

    I’m physically unable to touch-type, but I just got Dragon voice recognition software. It’s not easy to transition to speaking text instead of typing, at my age. But this software isn’t only for people with disabilities (I type 33 wpm using two fingers on one hand and one finger on the other hand for the shift key). Some people use it just for the extra speed you can gain.

    I always resisted outlines and just tried one for a book this week. It was time-consuming but helped clarify my thoughts. I know the book will come together much more quickly now that I did that.

    On your third suggestion, I never even thought of doing this, but it’s a brilliant idea because I lose momentum when I work in shorter blocks of time.

    • Oh I hope you’ll give that third point a try, then!

      I’ve been experimenting with dictation, because in my situation it’s been really helpful for when I’m trying to work but I’m taking care of a baby and can’t really type. It’s improved tremendously over the years. I know you’ll get the hang of it soon, because dictation is (as you said) a powerful tool.

  • Lisa says:

    Love your tip number 3–it’s such a waste of time sitting trying to remember what I was working on the last time. Definitely will start leaving myself breadcrumbs to follow! Thanks for sharing.

  • My time for writing is so incredibly limited that I have a hard time doing anything but writing when I sit down to write. I am teaching myself the importance of planning, and preparation, and trying hard to take the time for them. I love your idea of an outline – another useful tool that I avoid because it takes time! But efficiency needs to be the key at my house, so I will give it a try! Thank you!

    • It’s definitely worth a shot! When I don’t have to remember everything I plan to say, I can stay much more focused and get the darn thing written so much faster… I hope the same is true for you!

  • S. Noll says:

    As a high school student, it is critical that I am able to efficiently type various assignments and research papers. However, although I am able to type 86 words per minute (according to the linked Typing Test), I often find it difficult to produce content that is meaningful and relevant. Therefore, although efficiently typing is beneficial, I believe it is much more beneficial in the instance an idea for a post or draft is produced prior to actually typing.

    http://scribentia.blogspot.com/

  • Wahidah Razali says:

    Thanks for the useful infos. It really helps me

  • Hi Ashley,

    The typing link seems quite resourceful.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Very superb and such a nice article thanks for sharing this post.

  • I loved your article ,not only is it well written and full of helpful tips, I found that I was already practicing some of your tips. For example, I have already signed up for an online Typing course. My next step is to determine my typing speed. The results may be quite embarrassing since I am self-taught.
    Wish me luck as I try to launch my Writing career. Thanks again for your article.

  • nikki says:

    I think going back to outlining is going to ne helpful to me, I used to do this all the time in university but have gotten out of the way of that. I also seriously need to build up my typing speed.

  • Lauren says:

    This is some really wonderful advice. I really appreciated what you were saying and found my self nodding along as I read. A wonderful Rule of 3!!

    I think outlining is a very important tool for writers and one I do appreciate my teachers for drilling into me as a kid. Not only has it save me countless hours on schoolwork in the past but meant that I have not been suicidal when working on my novel in progress.

    As for touch typing, I just can’t help myself, whether typing or writing with a pen, my words on the page need to appear as quickly as I think them, with or without copious amount of spelling errors. I think socializing is also a very good resource, not only does it get your name around but it also allows you to learn from one another, which is key. And very fun.

    Really enjoyed reading this, thank you.

  • subul abrar says:

    i want to express myself through my words how can i enhance my self

    • As an editor, I have found that the authors who are most effective for their readers are those who are most in touch with themselves as writers. The best way to achieve that is to make sure you write every day about things that touch the depths of your soul, even if you are not being paid for all of it, indeed, even if much of it will be seen by no eyes but yours. The discipline of daily, meaningful writing will keep you in a constant state of readiness for any opportunities that may arise to share your gift with others. You’ll be amazed at what a difference just a few minutes a day can make.

      Daily writing can be as simple as opening a notebook and letting your pencil scribble about whatever comes to mind, but most of us need at least a little more structure than that. I would always suggest that any writer consider investing a few dollars in a good collection of prompts or exercises. I’ve been selling them on Etsy for a while, and the authors who’ve used them report that they were helpful. I’m not the only source, so look around and find something that appeals to you. (There are free ones posted all over the internet, but when I’ve looked at them for my own use, I’ve always found them less inspiring than professionally compiled collections. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.)

      I wish you success in your growth as a writer!

      Trish O’Connor
      Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources
      epiclesisconsulting.com
      epiclesisconsulting.etys.com

  • Hafiz Akinde says:

    Forming an outline, as rightly stated by the writer, is definitely a powerful productivity tool every writer must use.

    Apart from making you job faster, it leaves your worked neatly presented, and organized. It has personally helped me a lot as it’s one of my winning strategies.

  • Kim says:

    I really like tip #3! I’m fond of to-do lists anyway, so why not put them to work in my writing routine?
    I don’t really outline, but I typically have a paragraph or two already written with the core idea that is then expanded into a blog post or article. I always keep a pen and note paper handy (at work, while writing, in the car, etc) so I can capture any ideas that appear!

  • Katharine says:

    LOVE oulines!
    I do touch typing, but make so many errors, I’m sure I’d fail a test. I think I live by the wavy red line.
    And the notes–I leave notes everywhere. I need a really good way to keep them organized. And I need to learn to make them a bit more informative.
    We have a document on our computer that has been through three transfers from older computers that we trashed. It is entitled “Guess Who?” and is a blank page. It was supposed to be a reminder to myself to write that article. We’re all still guessing and laughing at me. <3 K

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