How to write fast

No, I haven’t been able to retcon Elfblood so I can go on — life continues being life.  For various reasons, I woke up at nine thirty today,  (only half hour ago.  I’m two hours behind most of you) so I’m going to do a post Laura M. requested.  She asked if there was some way to write faster.  There are some mental tricks.  I’m going to give them below, with the caveat that sometimes nothing will work, though I’ve never before been stopped for a year and a half.  In this case it’s a combination of illnesses/life events (Kris Rusch and Dean Smith call them Life Rolls) and a book that is in itself very difficult.

So, here, more or less in order are the mental tricks to write fast while writing well:



This is the absolutely most important one.  And it is difficult because all of us have heard/internalized things about how slow writers are the best.  How many times have you heard the equivalent of “So and so took ten years to write this book” said in a reverential tone?  Right.

It is possible that once upon a time (no, really) there was some inverse relation between speed and quality.  Not, I think in the writing process itself, but in the revision.

Look, a hundred years ago most writers still wrote by hand, with a few of them writing by typewriter.  (I think.  I know my grandfather’s circle wrote mostly by hand because he told me I’d never be published.  No publisher could read my hand.  One of his cronies, who was a well known name in Portuguese literature dictated to his wife for that reasons.)  Certainly a hundred and fifty years ago, when our literary culture was being formed, writing took place by means of dipping pen and applying to paper.

For those of you who haven’t done that, ever, the process is inherently messy and difficult and sets its own pace, lest you drop a blot that obliterates most of a paragraph (did that often.)

In such circumstances — or even with typewriters, which are a slower and more messy process than people who haven’t used them imagine — it took much longer to write each sentence.

The problem with this is that, in normal narrative flow at normal brain speed, by the time you’re done writing a sentence with either quill, pen or manual typewriter, you forgot what the next one would be.  So you have to bring it up again, then write it.

This both ensures a far choppier prose in the first draft, and training yourself to think in words very slowly.

Then there’s revision, which — trust me, having written stories both these ways — is far more needed in this method.  Changed that character’s name because you realized it’s an unfortunate pun?  You now have to fair-copy most of your manuscript, because each of those pages is now out of place.  Btw, typewriting didn’t help with this.

Also when you were done with the whole thing, you needed a lot more distance from it.  A LOT MORE DISTANCE — like ten years — because you were so sick and tired of re-copying it.

Look, that might look like a simple change in tools, but it’s actually a difference in how to tell a story, period.  Compared to that, any fast typist now can be almost like a neural download, pouring out words as fast as you can think it.  And if you can’t think faster than a quill or a manual typewriter, seek help.

Also, the first two revisions (for names and details like that) can be done on the computer and are much faster.  (I find the kindle fire is better, though.)  For the final revision, though, I advise printing the dang thing out.

So get rid of that “I must write slow to write well.”  Unless you’re writing with a quill pen or — even — a manual typewriter.

2- This seems trivial, but is related to that change in instruments.  If you’re a slow typist, become a fast one.  Your story telling ability flies MUCH faster than 20 words per minute, or even 40.  If you aren’t a touch typist, find a course with your community college and take it.  If you are, there are games on line to increase your speed.  Consider those.  I haven’t clocked myself recently but I type almost as fast as my husband reads.  In my case, I did it the old fashioned way — I couldn’t afford a typing course (newly married) and there were no games or net.  So I got Dan’s old highschool typing manual and followed the exercises scrupulously for three months.  When I was done I touch-typed 60 words per minute.  Practice did the rest.  If you can’t do this for whatever reason (eventually arthritis will stop me) try Dragon.  It’s come on a lot and even understands my accent.

3- DO NOT revise while you write.  In fact, make that something that happens in a separate part of the house, if you can.  Also, when you leave off somewhere make yourself a note about where you are in the story and what comes next.  DO NOT read back on the novel.  Otherwise, if the novels is halfway through or more, you’ll only do that all day.  Just go on.  Takes a while to get used to, but can be done.

4- Remember it can all be changed in post.  Yes, if you follow 3 there will be inconsistencies.  That’s why three passes, to catch it all.  Take a deep breath and just assume you’ll change it in revision.  (The same is true for minor failures to foreshadow, etc.)

5- Shut up and write.  Yes, this means turning off the internet on your writing computer.  Yes, I’m working on taking my own medicine, by setting up the blogging and other social stuff on the treadmill “desk” (board affixed on the handles) downstairs.  I’m way more productive without internet.

There might be more things you can do, but these are the most important ones.  Now go write.


  1. I can write quickly when I can keep the thread in my head. My problem – right now – is that I can’t seem to keep any of the important things in my head, let alone writing things. I can manage (sorta, kinda) some nonfic, as I’ve gotten my MGC and ATH posts done. I’m told this goes with being new to the parenting gig, said notion to which I cling as the drowning sailor to a scrap of driftwood in the storm.

    Two years ago, I aced NaNoWriMo in two weeks. I was working on a thing that felt like it was writing itself. This year, I did not get to start. *shrug* These things happen as they will, and I expect Signals to go better, as I won’t be trying to keep things in my head. I hope.

    For me, Numbers 3 and 5 are the biggest hindrances to productivity. Mostly 5, though 3 has been resurgent as of late, and I am unamused by it.

    1. Number 5 is a bad one for me. During NaNo this month I have been very disciplined about checking my email and blogs only after I’ve written 500 words. If I get up, it’s another 500 words before I can check. I have to finish 2K before I can check sales. I say this as someone who, on the last of NaNo, is at 49,100 words at 2 in the afternoon, and won’t just Sit Down and Finish It. But I’m at the end, everyone is in deep trouble and upsetting things are happening. I keep having to stop and breathe into a paper bag and then check the internet. Think I’ll walk the dogs.

  2. “DO NOT read back on the novel.” Yeah. I lose a lot of time doing that. Bad habit.

    Now, when picking up a story I haven’t worked on in awhile, especially different universe, I need to, to pick up the voice, the mood, the style . . . but I need to hold it down to _one_ reread, and then this time, finish it!!!!!

  3. I’ve written stories longhand. I learned to touch type in freshman high school. I was in awe when IBM Selectrics came out, and more so when they added erase tape. Writing with a word processor is a whole nother beast entirely. As you so rightly point out the mechanisms are completely different. It’s much more as though you are telling a tale only speaking very slowly.
    Works for me, but if anyone does in fact have a knack for storytelling I would suggest trying this. Break the process into two separate parts by telling the story into a recorder. Then transcribe the words onto the screen in chunks. Or if able you can even have someone else do the transcription. What comes out will not of course be camera ready, but you’ll have something in front of you to clean up and smooth out into a finished piece.

  4. Everything’s always blocked up to me until I try to write it longhand… that said, I am insanely glad to have a ballpoint pen instead of a quill to work with.

    (…actually, my work laptop works, too. I think it might just be the concept of being “away”… and, er, unconnected, per 5. Eheh.)

    1. I’m the same way. 😦 Give me a pen and paper (ball point, yes, wonderful invention), words just flow out of me. The blinking cursor, my mind goes blank.

      But not entirely, obviously, or I wouldn’t be able to reply here.

  5. These are all excellent points. The only one I disagree with (and only slightly) is #3. I start each day by reading over and revising what I wrote the day before, but that’s as far back as I go. The one I have the most trouble with these days is #5. Most of my writing is done on a computer that’s not connected to the Internet and never has been. My office is even upstairs. But all too often I find myself down here on the Internet laptop, like now. Ah, well. My first novel was written with a fountain pen in a spiral notebook, and since then I’ve been through manual typewriters, electric typewriters, and finally computers. I’ve gotten faster with each step. Closing in on a million words of fiction this year, and if I make it, it’ll be the tenth year in a row I’ve reached that mark.

  6. Get the kids gone. Send them out with Grandma, tuck them in bed, whatever it takes. Probably any other distractions work much the same way.
    I almost always have to read the last scene to get the character voices right in my head. Sometimes more. For which I am grateful that I read very fast.
    I learned to type ages ago (I was nine, Mom couldn’t read my handwriting, I was home schooled, it was an issue) from Mavis Beacon, checked out from the public library. They still have it, so if yours doesn’t you can get it ILL.

      1. My 23 year old lives at home while he goes to college but generally does his own thing. He’ll text when he’s on his way home to find out if there will be food, but we don’t actually eat together so there isn’t any actual coordination that has to happen.

        (Looking back I think that family meals would have solved some problems but I call our kitchen the “everyone hates each other” room. It’s a matter of some really nasty acoustics, actually. We like each other quite well in any other room of the house.)

        1. We eat together. We talk. We write together. Their havockey schedule is my havoc. Older son got into a job and a relationship the same week — his schedule is now EVEN crazier.
          This is me screaming and tearing my hair out.
          To be fair, it also feels his center of gravity is finally moving away from home, but still — a lot of changes very fast.

          1. The transition is hard. I just keep on telling myself that it will work itself out into a new sort of equilibrium. The dream of having everyone a bit self-propelled instead of mom-propelled…

            1. We’re getting the family trained on an internet-based calender that can be accessed by phone or computer, in the hopes that will alleviate some of the planning issues, or at least so we can figure out where ‘missing’ people are. I don’t know if that’d help with your situation, but so far it’s working pretty well for us.

  7. Long years of online, text based role playing games, and before that BBS systems, did wonders for my typing abilities. Although it also gave me terrible habits when it comes to corrections, instead of reaching for the mouse I might backspace out entire words.

    I’m not sure about my speed. I once took a test, but the software they used wouldn’t let you correct anything in a word after you hit a space, but I reflexively end a word with a space, so I found that rather frustrating. They clocked me at 40 words or so, but I can be a lot faster than that.

  8. This is pretty much how I do it, and when I’m fully immersed I can write about a thousand words and hour. Which may sound like a lot, but it’s less than 20 words a minute. Of course right now I’m on an out of town project, so my writing rythmn has been thrown off, and my laptop died Thanksgiviing night and the replacement won’t be here until (fingers crossed) Monday. (Add to that I was visiting family when it died).
    The key to writing fast is to keep writing and not stop moving forward until you’re done, just as Sarah said. But it always bears repeating.

  9. So, slightly on topic: I just finished NaNo successfully: 52,000 words in a month. Now I feel sad it’s over.

      1. Wait. That’s not right: it was 50,200 something. I will keep going in December, but not at the same pace. I’ve been here before, and I know.

  10. For those of you running Windows 7 or later, Windows has fairly decent voice recognition built into it. Good enough to have a serious impact on Dragon’s sales.

    1. How do you access that in say, Open Office? I once tried to go the other way, and tried Text to speech, which works wonderfully on the Mac and okay on the Kindle, but the Windows version sounded like the verbal equivalent of a ransom note, and it tried to read everything, and by that I mean the title bar and the button labels.

      1. haven’t tried ti with openoffice.

        The Mac text to speech, last time i tried it, sounded barely like an improvement over the test to speech engine on my Amiga 20 years ago.

            1. Tried it out. Only worked with a horrible headset/microphone I’ve got. The demo was rigged! Also, for some reason when I tried using it it would make my paused video windows play. But it might bear further investigation. Dunno how well their selection commands would work in longer documents.

  11. I found that my new keyboard sped up my writing by slowing my typing. I can get to typing so fast that it locks up Word. The new keyboard has the touch of an electric typewriter (without the “ding” at the margin, alas). This slows my speed down somewhat but it also 1) forces me to touch type again and 2) helps me set a rhythm. And once I have a rhythm, I can type for quite a while. Using focus view also helps (no icons to whisper “check the net, check the net.”)

  12. I’ve a number of known issues I need to keep track of, and avoid forgetting to implement the solutions. For example, I probably should clean my glasses and see if I can get some letters written. I also have some problems I need to find some better solutions to.

  13. “It’s come on a lot and even understands my accent.”

    WOW! That is impressive!! 😀

    (Runs to dodge carp while being amazed no one else hit on this first)

              1. From time to time.

                NaNo was supposed to do that for my writing, but unfortunately failed in that regard. Of course, there ARE some good reasons for that.

                  1. Yeah, I actually should have done NaNo last year. Wrote 60K words during it, but wasn’t actually taking part. This year, I kind of was, and then lost my motivation for the project, then my other crap…

                    Well, time to get moving again. 🙂

            1. The challenge is when they are actually flying, not just thrown at you. They can change direction when they’re actually flying so it’s harder to dodge them. [Very Big Evil Grin]

  14. Sarah, Thank you so much for your practicality. I always find myself eager to get back to writing when I finish your posts. I know you’ve got your own books to write but I want you to know how much I appreciate your words to the rest of us.

  15. Waaay late, but I’m just catching up on my MGC backlog:

    Number 3 and 4 may be the best writing advice I’ve seen lately. Really.

    Between this and Cedar’s Uncorking The Genie I’ve got plans…

    Maybe I can stop being a wannabe some time, soon.

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