Confession: I’m a fan of the superhero The Flash.
If you’re at all familiar with comic book lore, you know that this is the guy who runs super, super fast. Why am I a fan? There’s something about being able to go “zoom” and you’re “there” — in seconds — that somehow appeals to me.
Yet, despite his talent for sprinting faster than a Hennessey Venom, I’m fairly certain that The Flash can’t write any speedier than the rest of us.
In fact, he would probably appreciate getting some practical tips on writing faster, more easily, and with a lot less stress.
So, with that in mind, here are some strategies that have helped boost my writing productivity. Some of these may work for you, even if you’re not a superhero.
1. Create a “tentpole” outline.
Forget about the detailed, paragraph-by-paragraph outline your grade eight teacher taught you to create. In my experience, that just makes the writing process longer. Instead, simply make a list of points you want to make in roughly the order you want to make them in. These are your “tent poles”.
Trust me. They’ll make the actual writing a lot easier.
2. Write and polish your opening first
I spend a lot of time crafting the headline and opening few sentences. Once I have those in place, I find that the rest of the article, web page, sales letter, or whatever it is I’m writing, comes together quickly.
Writing and polishing your opening is like pulling the starter cord on a lawnmower. It revs things up and gets things moving. Just having that finished opening in place creates a momentum that makes writing the rest of the piece much faster.
3. Write a crap draft
After writing and polishing your opening, write the rest of the piece as fast as you can — without a care in the world as to how it sounds. In fact, expect your first draft to be awful and, in some areas, nonsensical.
As you’re writing, don’t judge. Don’t edit. Don’t go back and fix anything. Just keep moving forward. If you can’t think of the right word or phrase, insert a bad one. If you can’t dream up a decent metaphor or an example, put [example here] or [metaphor here] and then move on.
Yes, some of what your write will be a useless mess. However, some of it will also be great. The key is to let your ideas flow freely until you have a rough draft in place. Once that’s done, the pressure’s off.
4. Try writing in bullets
My friend, Jim, was struggling to write a sales page for a new program he was launching. He was getting nowhere. So I suggested he simply create a bullet list of what he wanted to say and in roughly the order he wanted to say it in.
Once he did that, he was able to quickly turn those bullets into finished copy. The bullets were essentially a rough draft in disguise.
I know a lot of people who write their rough drafts as bullets. Bullets are less intimidating than crafting sentences and paragraphs, and are quick to write. I even know someone who writes her rough drafts in PowerPoint. Hey, whatever works!
5. Try the Q&A technique
Here’s another method for getting your rough draft done. Turn your writing project into a list of questions – and then answer them.
Say, for example, you’re writing your website ABOUT page. The questions you might want to address are:
- What do you do?
- What makes you different?
- What are your credentials?
- Why do you love what you do?
- What do clients say they like most about working with you?
You simply answer those questions and, voila, you have a rough draft. Later, you can turn those Q&As into more traditional copy. Or, leave it as a Q&A.
There are few things more frustrating than getting stuck when trying to write something. You bang your head on the desk trying to dream up a decent headline, but all you get is a headache. Or a particular paragraph won’t come together, no matter how long you hack away at it.
When that happens, stop. Set the writing aside for a few minutes or, if possible, an hour or two. Then go back to it. When you do, I can almost guarantee the right words will suddenly come to you.
Writing productivity experts call this incubation. I’m not sure why it works. I’m just glad it does.
7. Silence your inner editor
You write a sentence. Something tells you it’s not quite right. You go back and change it. You start the next sentence. Then you delete both of them and start again. And on it goes.
Writing like that is like driving in stop and go traffic. It’s slow and agonizing.
To write quickly, you have to turn off your inner editor, at least until your first rough draft in done. Then you can turn that editor loose, and let him or her fix, revise and polish to perfection.
So those are seven ideas for writing more quickly and with less stress. If you have any additional tips on cranking out copy faster than a superhero, please let me know. I’ll share this with my friend The Flash.