You've probably heard this line before: "Fast. Cheap. Good. You can only have two." That's true in freelance writing as in most things. Clients have to prioritize.
As a freelance writer, you don't want your clients prioritizing "cheap" work when they hire you.
That means you'll need to provide those other two benefits: being good and being fast.
In this case, "being good" means being a strong writer, an authority in the subject matter or being better than the competition in some other way. And "being fast," which is relative of course, means at a minimum meeting deadlines and exceeding them where possible.
Sure, you can opt to be just one of those things. But you'll sacrifice high-paying opportunities in the process. So today let's focus on how to write faster, starting with why you might want to.
Why You Might Want to Learn How to Write Faster
Learning how to write faster when working on client projects benefits your business in several ways. For example, that increased productivity can lead to:
- more billable hours;
- more time off;
- fewer chances to procrastinate.
Ultimately, being a more productive and prolific writer means you can offer clients better turnaround times than others, keeping them happy while giving you a competitive advantage.
What it Does (& Doesn't) Mean to Write Fast
When I talk about "writing faster," let me be clear about what this doesn't mean first.
- Writing fast does not mean being sloppy.
- Being a more productive writer does not mean cramming in extra work until you burn out.
- Learning how to write faster is not justification for anyone paying you less per-project.
Instead, these tips can help you:
- work in a more productive and organized way;
- "work smarter, not harder," so you earn more money in less time;
- avoid having freelance writing projects push up against client deadlines, minimizing that added stress;
- charge even more for your work because you offer not only professionalism and high-quality content or copy, but relative speed.
There are some freelance writers who equate being slow with being better, or more thorough, or producing higher-quality results.
This can be true when we're talking about extremes. Think bottom-of-the-barrel content mill work that literally requires writers to cram in massive amounts of writing in a short time to earn a basic living wage.
But as a general rule, it's flat-out false.
This can be an internal excuse for why some writers haven't optimized their own processes yet. After all, it's easier to assume those who write faster than you must be doing a lousy job in comparison than to admit you have room for improvement.
Here's the thing though:
- Learning how to write faster doesn't have to be difficult.
- It doesn't have to hurt the quality of your work.
- It doesn't mean you have to change the types of freelance writing projects you take on.
- And it's a process you can customize entirely to your own writing style.
Now, I'm going to give you five tips on how you can complete freelance writing projects faster. Then we'll look at each option in greater depth.
You don't have to use all these tips to optimize your writing routine. You can pick and choose what works for you. And you can create any combination you please, with these examples and any other productivity tips and tools you like.
5 Tips for Faster Writing
Here are five tips that can help you learn how to write faster:
- Use a timer and the Pomodoro technique.
- Try voice-to-text applications.
- Outline your writing projects.
- Set (and enforce) self-imposed deadlines.
- Batch your projects and tasks.
Try one or more of these ideas to help you finish projects in less time, effectively giving yourself a raise over your previous average earnings per-hour.
More on Learning How to Write Faster
Now let's take a deeper look at each of those five tips to help you figure out how these productivity hacks can help you as a freelance writer.
Use a Timer & the Pomodoro Technique
A simple timer might be all you need to speed up your client projects. How can timers help? A timer:
- makes every project a challenge;
- lets you improve over your own best time (track and motivate improvements);
- helps you determine the average time spent on certain project types.
As a result, a timer can ultimately help you improve your productivity. It's a tool that lets you gamify your freelance writing work (if that's your thing).
A timer can help you learn to write faster all on its own. But you can take the advantages even further with a more organized system like using the Pomodoro Technique to keep you focused on your writing without burning out.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is designed to keep you focused on a particular task for a certain amount of time. How much time? Just 25 minutes. Then you take a short break after each work session.
How are 25-minute work increments helpful? Wouldn't breaking things up hurt your productivity instead?
The reason short, highly-focused work periods work is because they're easy to stick to. Everyone can go 25 minutes without letting themselves get distracted. It's not asking for a huge commitment from yourself.
You won't have a chance to get terribly stuck before your next break when you can get up, walk around, relax, or do whatever else is tugging at your attention span.
Those breaks are not only good for your health (get away from your computer if you can), but sometimes stepping away is exactly what you need to flip that creative "switch" and figure out how to move forward.
After your short break, you dive back into that same project, or you can switch to your next task if you've finished the previous one.
On every fourth Pomodoro cycle, you can give yourself a longer break.
Take a 20-minute walk, listen to a podcast for a half hour, read a chapter of a book, enjoy a short meditation or yoga session, or knock out some housework even. Do whatever you want or need to do as long as you take a mental break from your tasks.
Here's what a full cycle of four Pomodoros might look like:
- 25 minutes working
- 5-minute break
- 25 minutes working
- 5-minute break
- 25 minutes working
- 5-minute break
- 25 minutes working
- 15-30-minute break
Ideally, you should only need a maximum of one cycle of four Pomodoros to complete a task. So remember to break your freelance writing projects down into smaller parts (kind of like how I use time-based task lists to break things down into mini-tasks I can tackle when I only have a short amount of time available, or when I just want to tackle something small to check it off my list when I'm lacking motivation).
For example, if you're writing a white paper for a client, you might plan out a round of Pomodoros for each section or sub-section of your draft and separate Pomodoro sessions for things like transcribing interviews, various research you need to do, and revisions.
Try Voice-to-Text Applications
Another way you can speed up freelance writing work is to use voice-to-text applications. This could be traditional software like Nuance's Dragon speech recognition software or free tools like voice typing in Google Docs (if you're using Chrome). You could also use dictation apps on your smartphone and later transfer the text into your favorite word processor.
Voice-to-text apps let you write by speaking which can be faster than typing for many. Just know you'll likely have more editing to do. But try a few options and see if dictation plus that editing is faster than your usual writing routine.
Personally, I prefer typing these days. But dictation came in handy a few months back when I first started writing this very post. I sprained my wrist and couldn't type easily, and that gave me a chance to play with voice-to-text options again. Google's voice typing has been the most accurate instant transcription service for me, but your mileage may vary.
3 Voice-to-Text Options
Here are three voice-to-text or transcription options you can try if typing speed is slowing down your writing:
- Google Voice Typing -- Open Google Docs in the Chrome browser, create a new document, click "Tools," then choose "voice typing." Click the microphone icon when ready to speak. You can also use Google's voice typing by using the GBoards keyboard on your mobile. Click the microphone icon on the keyboard when in your writing app.
- Otter.ai -- A quick thanks to Paula Hendrickson for first making me aware of Otter. Otter can be used to transcribe audio on the web or via their mobile app. Their free tier lets you transcribe up to 600 minutes per month (up to 40 minutes per session). This has been a bit less accurate for me, but its cross-platform compatibility is a big plus, and premium tiers let you import audio to transcribe later which is handy if you record phone interviews with a separate app or simply prefer keeping your audio in a more robust audio recording app.
- Microsoft Office Mobile App -- If you use Microsoft Word's mobile version in the Office app, you can also choose a voice typing option. While I find this struggles more with names than other options, I love that it auto-corrects for context when you pause (ex. initially thinking I said "they are," but then correcting it to "their" when I finished the sentence). I guess all those years of Word highlighting our grammatical mistakes has come in handy here.
There are far more voice-to-text apps than I can cover here, so see what's available for your favorite writing software or for your mobile device. I strongly suggest testing more than one option, as they'll all react to how you speak a bit differently.
Outline Your Writing Projects
I'm a big proponent of outlines. Very little speeds up a writing project quite like knowing where you're meant to go. In fact, this post is a direct result of my previous one here on the blog about using skeleton outlines to write faster.
Outlining can be as minimal or as detailed as you like. An outline's main purpose is to keep you on track so you don't get pulled away from the act of writing while you figure out where things should go next. That's why I'm such a big fan of skeleton outlines. You start with a minimal base, but you can flesh them out as much as you'd like.
How do Skeleton Outlines Work?
To use skeleton outlines to speed up your writing process, you first map out only the most important elements. In fiction that might be your biggest plot points. For most freelance projects, think in terms of headings and subheadings.
If you want to flesh that outline out even more, add points you want to touch on in each section, or write out any lists, bullet points, or pull-quotes you want to include. You can also include links to sources or statistics you plan to cite.
That's how I write almost every blog post. Title. Headings. Subheadings. Lists. Sources. Then I add any points I want to cover, where I want to write about them. Then when I sit down to type the first full draft, everything moves along quickly.
It doesn't matter how you prefer to outline. Any outline that helps you think through a piece before you start typing (or dictating) is going to help speed up the process. Try different outline structures until you find one that works well for you (or more than one; you can use different outline styles for different project types).
Set (and Enforce) Self-Imposed Deadlines
If you're a natural procrastinator (no shame, I'm one too), setting your own deadlines could help you write faster and save you headaches down the road.
Some of us simply work best under pressure. I was one of those students who would ace any test if I waited until the last minute to prepare, or get perfect score on a paper if I stayed up and wrote most of it the night before it was due. If I prepped well in advance, I always scored lower. I don't know exactly why that is. It's simply how some people function. But that doesn't work as well when it comes to freelance writing because deadlines are directly tied to your income.
As someone who's also dealt with a variety of health issues over the years, I know sometimes things come up that interfere with work plans. So saving a client's blog post until the day before it's due isn't going to cut it. I never know what else might come up and get in the way.
Over time I realized I could essentially trick myself into finishing projects much faster, all while operating at my best under that pressure that works well for me. How? I set my own deadlines.
To be clear, clients still have their deadlines. What I do is set an earlier one, and that earlier deadline is the one that goes on my calendar.
How Self-Imposed Deadlines Help You Write Faster
With self-imposed earlier deadlines, I still see projects on my schedule in a way that I feel pressured to complete them. And there's no harm in doing something at the "last minute" if that urge strikes or if something else runs long.
Rather than taking a week to write a blog post for a client for example, I might give myself 3 or 4 days with the intention of it being ready to deliver a few days early. That forces any natural tendency toward procrastination to kick in earlier, as well as whatever I have to do to push past it. And ultimately work is completed faster, and allowances are built in if you need a sick day or otherwise need a little extra time.
Bonus points: These kinds of self-imposed deadlines also keep clients happy by teaching you to over-estimate so you consistently over-deliver.
Batch Your Projects & Tasks
Another way you can write faster is by using task batching. When you constantly jump from one type of work to another (think outlining, drafting, revising, proofreading, etc.), you have to mentally shift gears.
What is Task Batching?
Task batching is where you lump together "like" tasks in order to move more seamlessly between them.
For example, you could do something like what I do with my one-day per month blogging schedule (which I love but need to use more consistently).
Let's say I want to schedule one post per week on a particular blog. What I'd do is set aside one day during the previous month to take care of that next month's blog content. And on that day, I use task batching which might look like this:
- I first choose a theme and either brainstorm related post ideas or pull some from my running idea list.
- I set up a bare bones skeleton outline (just titles and placeholders for the opening, transition, first heading, and closing -- that's it) for each post, all within a single document using page breaks.
- Next, I flesh out each outline's headings and subheadings.
- I flesh each one out further by noting any key points, list items, statistics, references, or quotes I want to include.
- Then I write the closing CTA for each post (where appropriate, such as on my professional site's blog).
- I might then write the introduction for each post (though I sometimes write these last).
- After that, I'll go back and draft the rest of each post, which generally goes quickly after fleshing out the outlines.
- I read each post aloud and make any revisions that feel necessary.
- Then I go back and proofread each post.
- After this, I create any custom images needed for the post.
- I might then write the meta info for each post's on-site SEO.
- Then I'll import everything for each post into WordPress, make any further adjustments based on Yoast SEO's feedback, and schedule the posts.
It looks like a lot in list form, but each step goes by quickly when I'm able to keep my head focused on one element of each project at a time. And by the time I get to the point of writing the bulk of the content, everything's mapped out so thoroughly it removes all hesitation or intimidation I might have felt.
Other Types of Task Batching to Help You Write Faster
Task batching can be done in a more general sense too. For example:
- Batch all admin tasks like site updates and invoicing on a single day so those tasks don't pull you from writing on others.
- Consider batching all or most marketing tasks to a set time, like pre-scheduling social media updates.
- Schedule client projects in clusters based on their type -- like separating a print feature from blog posts or copywriting work.
- Set aside some time for interviews or transcription for multiple projects rather than scattering them through a week.
- Brainstorm pitches for multiple clients or prospects at the same time and batch your querying or cold calling if you use them for marketing.
The options are wide open, and you can batch tasks in any way that helps you improve your flow mentally so you can write faster in the end.
If you're interested in writing faster, or speeding up other freelance responsibilities to free up more billable hours, give these productivity tricks a try. You don't have to use all of them. You might find options not included here that work even better for you. And you can combine these (like task batching and skeleton outlines from my one-day-per-month blogging example above). But if you test these or other productivity boosters, you're bound to find ways to speed up your writing process that work well for you.