How to Write Faster, Better, and More Efficiently

Simple writing, research, and editing technique that will move your writing along faster than you would otherwise think possible.

A Solid Secret to Writing Faster that Only Took Me about Fifteen Years to Figure Out


… wanted to pass along that I think you might find beneficial when writing. Occasionally I run into folks battering themselves about with regard to how to write fast when you're writing, researching and editing all on your own, either as a solopreneur, or at a small company. I've tossed along a few suggestions/tweaks that help with the writing process, since when doing anything related to hard work, I tend to pull apart things and angle for the best methods. Here's one method I figured out a few years ago that's helped more than I thought possible in two very distinct ways:

1. Reduction of wasted time.
2. Reduction of stress.

I edit as I write (they call me a panster as a result … you're an outliner if you, well, outline first before writing). Anyway, pantsing is a rather torturous process that produces great work, but that that slows the bejeesus out of producing a final draft. Writing this way is incredibly stressful, particularly when drafting something the writer isn't entirely passionate about (that day, or at all). So, the method I found that removes the meddling editor part of my brain from the process altogether, has three parts. I'll point out what they are, and where I'm borrowing them from in each bullet, if relevant:

1. Outsource the Research: For topics of minimal interest to the writer, outsource the research to the best researcher you can find. When looking for this person, you need to look for a specific personality type … the person who always found Mom's earring in the shag carpeting, for example. Not everyone is a good researcher. In fact, most are not, which is why most online articles are horrible and misleading.

I'm too good myself, and can waste hours and hours reading ('cause I like to learn, and I always want to get to the bottom of something.) I suspect many have the same problem.

When the research is outsourced, the researcher's goal is to pull together relevant articles based on the request of the writer, print them out, or include links for the writer to access. Personally, since I find the Internet to be a huge distraction when writing (I often leap right back into research mode and waste time), I have the articles printed, so I'm reading away from the computer. Sometimes I really get focused and write with a pen instead of typing – another good hack.

To flip this scenario, if the topic is something the writer wishes to research on their own, put a time limit on it. This helps tremendously. When I was an academic advisor in the Architecture department at the University of Minnesota, the running joke regarding why buildings took so long to design was because the architect was never completely satisfied with the design. The same holds true with the eager researcher. When there is no true “answer,” to be found … the creative person's desire to keep learning is what makes this process endless. It's too much fun.

So, to recap, the best way around this huge time-waster (research) is to outsource it. Have Tim mess around with researching even things he's interested in – talk about a time-saver.

2. The Researcher as Writer: The person doing the research, should also be a good writer, because the next crucial step is to have that researcher create a working outline the writer will later use to create a first draft. A good researcher, without writing chops, will kill the process. This works brilliantly, because self editors tend to love research, but HATE writing outlines — they're contrary to the way self-editors write and think. Here is a good process to model.

Again, my hunch here is that many of you have been told a thousand times to outline, and he just can't bring himself to do it. I'm the exact same way. I discovered this approach by looking at the process of James Patterson, who writes tons of books, and does it by outlining the books, then sending them out to writers. He enjoys the outlining  and editing, not so much the writing, it seems. I simply reversed the process. Here's a good look into that process.

3. Write: Once all of this research and outlining is done, all the writer needs to do is read the research and answer the questions the researcher has prepared in the outline.

Doing this, I've managed to whittle down my normal 3-4 hours article-writing process to 45mins to an hour. And, that's not even the best part. The stress level from having to meet deadlines and anguishing over everything else but writing is GONE. It's really incredible. When I'm having a stressful week, or just not into a topic, some of those writing exercises could take a day or so, as I try to force the process — always a bad idea. I can write about things I'm not really into within the same time frame now, because it prevents me from purposely avoiding the writing by over-researching. I'm not over-stating the research angle here to be redundant, but to continue to point out the distraction it presents the self-editor. It really can be that crippling!

4. Getting to the Final Draft: The last step is to send my 1st draft to the person who originally researched and outlined the article. While, this is my process (due to resource restraints), a different editor could, and probably would, be better. Completely fresh eyes when editing are far better than familiar eyes.

 Then, after a quick return to me of the draft with edits included, we're done! I also give my editor the freedom to change certain aspects of text in my writing because she knows my voice. I managed to get there by working with her over a few short weeks and having her come to me with questions. It's a gorgeous process. Sometimes, we'll project-work a particularly gnarly passage (this, part of the process I've learned from how comedy writing teams work on scripts) – talking out-loud with one another to find a better way of saying something. I took classes with one of the founders of The Onion (Scott Dikkers), at The Second City in Chicago, and this is his methodology. He deconstructs everything too. It's beautiful.

So, there you have it – the simple process that's saving me from angst, making my writing better, involving other team members, and removed my tech-founder boss (when I worked with Revenue Well) from his temporary role of editor. He loved that!

Hopefully you find this helpful… I've been wanting to share it for awhile.

P.S. My editor didn't review this article.