How in the world do they do it?
Day after day, they write monstrous posts that are extremely useful and easy to read.
You know the people I’m talking about—you might even consider me to be one of them.
Here’s what a typical week looks like for me in terms of blog content alone:
- 2 posts on Quick Sprout (1,000-5,000 words each) plus an infographic
- 2 posts on the NeilPatel.com blog (about 5,000 words each)
- 2 guest posts on other popular blogs (about 1,500 words each)
- 0.5-1 blog post for the Crazy Egg blog (about 2 per month at about 2,000 words each)
Total that up, and you get around 17,000 words per week or 3,400 words per weekday.
And I’ve been able to sustain this type of volume for years.
I’m the first to admit that in technical terms, I’m not the best writer. I certainly didn’t go to college to get a degree in English or creative writing. Yet, I have thousands of awesome readers who really enjoy what I write.
There’s a reason I spent much time learning first how to write quality blog posts and then how to write them fast.
Although time is my most valuable resource, I spend a significant chunk of it every week writing. That’s because I know how effective content marketing can be for a business.
But I’m far from the only one.
Contently found that 41% of businesses struggle with creating enough content.
Wouldn’t it be easier to create more content if you could write faster?
If you need to learn how to write a great post, start by checking out my guide to writing high quality data-driven articles.
If you already write high quality posts but it takes you a long time to do it, then this article is for you. I’m going to show you 11 key concepts that you can start using today to start writing faster.
Imagine being able to write posts in half the time you currently do now! That would free up a lot of time to either write more posts or work on other parts of your business.
An extra few posts a week can greatly speed up your business’ growth, possibly by years.
1. Get your typing up to speed
No matter how well you can remain focused for long period of times and how fast you can think of what to say, if you can’t type at a decent speed, you’ll never write quickly.
If you’re still pecking at letters, one finger at a time, it’s not going to cut it.
You don’t have to be a master typist, but you should be able to type at least 60 words per minute (60 WPM). If you could type at that speed for an hour straight, that would be 3,600 words per hour. Obviously that’s unrealistic, but you can achieve a decent fraction of that production rate.
I’d like you to take a minute to test your typing speed. Head to Key Hero, and do a quick typing test:
If you’d like to repeat it a few times to get a more accurate result, go ahead.
If your speed is under 60 WPM, you’ll have to fix that before you can worry about any of the other concepts in this article. I know it’s not the most fun thing in the world, but you’ll be grateful you did it in the long run.
Step 1: Use the proper hand placement
To type properly, you should be resting the four fingers of each hand on the keys of the middle row, with your thumbs hovering over the space bar.
If you don’t already do this, it will take a bit of practice for it to feel natural.
Step 2: Don’t look at the keyboard
You should be able to type with your eyes closed—literally. If you can’t, it means you need to practice to get you to the point when typing no longer requires an active focus (the unconscious takes care of it).
Part of this can be your posture. If you’re hunched over while sitting, it’s possible that you’re looking at the keyboard just because that’s where your line of sight is. Do your best to sit up straight when writing.
Step 3: Practice, practice, practice
Kids these days practice typing from a young age, but you might not have been so lucky. The good news is that you can find online tools to help you practice and learn. One example is the Key Hero practice tools. If you need more instruction from the beginning, use a typing tutor tool:
Alternative: Try speech-to-text software
You have a number of speech-to-text tools you can use, e.g., TalkTyper (free), Ivona (paid), and Dragon Naturally Speaking (paid). These tools allow you to simply talk to your computer while it records your words and whatever punctuation you indicate.
While you can obviously talk faster than you can type, there are some downsides to this method. The free or cheap tools aren’t always accurate, and it can take a lot of time to fix the mistakes those programs make. Even the expensive ones aren’t perfect, and they also have a steep learning curve at first.
It’s not the first option I’d recommend, but if for some reason you aren’t able to type, or type quickly, it’s a decent backup.
2. Don’t forget your ideas: make a list
How much time do you waste trying to come up with a good idea for a blog post?
It’s hard enough if you’re just writing a couple of them a week, but if I had to come up with ideas for all the posts I write one at a time, I don’t know if I could do it.
The good news is: there’s a better way. It’s called an idea list.
Coming up with ideas on demand can be difficult because it’s a creative task. Creativity comes and goes as we observe and experience different things in our lives. It’s why book writers often take years to write their novels.
You can’t just sit down and say to yourself, “Okay brain, start coming up with great ideas.”
Instead, you need to develop your idea muscle so that you can spontaneously come up with many ideas throughout the day.
The concept of an idea muscle was coined by James Altucher, who says that as you practice coming up with ideas, you get better at it.
“Every situation you are in, you will have a ton of ideas. Any question you are asked, you will know the response. Every meeting you are at, you will take the meeting so far out of the box you’ll be on another planet, if you are stuck on a desert highway – you will figure the way out, if you need to make money you’ll come up with 50 ideas to make money, and so on.” — James Altucher
He advises to start by trying to come up with at least 10 ideas throughout the day.
Here’s the second part: record them. Not all of these ideas will be good, but some will be, and others may lead you to good ideas.
You can use a simple notepad from the dollar store, or you can do what the team at Buffer does and record ideas in Trello:
An alternative: create a repeatable strategy
I’ve already shown you how to steal ideas for your next post. This is a strategy that you can use over and over again to get inspiration for post ideas.
It’s still not a good idea to come up with post ideas as you need them—it’s inefficient. Instead, schedule a block of time, maybe an hour, every week or month (depending on your post volume). Use this time to use your strategy to come up with as many ideas as you can.
Instead of coming up with a single idea in 10 minutes every time you need one, you can come up with five times the number of ideas in the same time frame once you get some momentum going.
Either way, you’ll be able to cut down on time coming up with ideas and focus more time and energy on the actual writing.
3. Get rid of distractions
Distractions are everywhere, especially on the computer.
The urge to check email, visit social media sites, or just click a bookmark to go to your favorite site to kill time is strong.
Maybe you’d rather check your search engine rankings again or website traffic instead of writing a post, which seems way less fun.
If you give into these urges, your productivity is going to go way down. But even if you don’t, those urges in the back of your head are going to distract you and prevent you from being as productive as possible.
In real life, there are even more distractions, especially if you work from home. Kids running around, people talking on the phone or watching TV, and temptation to take a break and grab a snack.
Distractions are everywhere.
You’ll never get rid of them all, but you can get rid of many, which will greatly boost your writing speed.
Distraction elimination #1: Work in an office or quiet space
Noise kills writing productivity. You need to be able to hear your thoughts uninterrupted. If you work from home, designate a room as your office, and make sure that no one disturbs you while the door is closed.
If you’re working at an office or co-working space, keep your door closed while writing. Tell any friends or coworkers to not disturb you while the door is closed unless there is an emergency.
If neither of those are realistic, head to a library. Libraries are quiet, and some even have dedicated rooms for silent work.
Distraction elimination #2: Turn off the tunes
Who doesn’t like music? Wouldn’t it be more fun to write while listening to Taylor Swift?
Well, sure, it will be more fun, but it will slow you down when you are writing.
Studies have shown that music is a distraction that slows down complex thought processes. So while music might help you with simple, straight-forward tasks such as lifting more in the gym, it’s going to slow down your writing.
But that’s not the full story. Those studies looked typical lyrical music.
A 2012 study showed that low to moderate levels of ambient noise can actually lead to slightly higher creative output.
Similarly, another study showed that baroque classical music can increase mood and productivity. Note that classical music rarely has any lyrics. It is soft and consistent.
So you have two options: work with no music or work with low to medium volume ambient noise or classical music.
To have some ambient sound in the background, you can use tools such as A Soft Murmur or Simply Noise.
Distraction elimination #3: Lock-down distracting websites
If you have trouble staying on task, you can block certain trouble websites for a designated time period. There are many plugins that can do this, e.g., Strict Workflow for Chrome.
You simply tell the plugin which sites you’d like blocked and for how long, and you won’t be able to access them until the time period is up.
In addition, you can hide your bookmarks bar if you’re working inside a web text application such as Google Docs. Just right-click any empty space in the bookmarks bar and uncheck “show bookmarks bar.”
Distraction elimination #4: Write offline
If blocking distracting sites doesn’t work, you can take it to the next level and disconnect your Internet altogether. Writing offline will eliminate all online distractions.
Distraction elimination #5: Finish all important tasks before writing
Sometimes it’s hard to focus because there’s something else important that you need to do during the day. If you’re thinking about this in the back of your head, your writing speed will go down.
Instead, think about doing any distracting tasks upfront, and then come back to writing later.
4. Outline your post beforehand
Before I write any post, I always outline it.
When you outline a post, you get a really clear idea of how you will be making the point you’re trying to make as well as any research or resources you’ll need to make the article as strong as possible.
You’ll notice that all of my posts have an introduction section (like everyone else’s posts would have) and also a conclusion section.
The headlines of the other sections will depend on the type of post I’m writing. There are 12 main types of posts, and I have general outlines for all of them.
The outlines don’t need to take very long to put together. Their main point is to make sure you’re not missing any important pieces of the puzzle.
I write out all the subheadlines (H2s) in the article as well as a few main bullet points below each to remind me what I should cover.
When I get to each section while writing, I don’t have to remember what I had in mind for this section before—it’s already there.
5. Research comes first
What do you think is easier to write about for me: how to ride a horse or how to write a good blog post?
Of course, how to write a good blog post is a simpler topic for me because it’s a topic that I have a lot of experience and expertise in.
The first step is to become an expert on the topic you’re writing about. It’s easy to talk/write about something you know well but difficult if you’re trying to put the pieces together as you go.
Take my nutrition blog case study. I’m not a nutrition expert, and I didn’t have the time to invest in becoming well-versed in the subject so that I could write about it credibly. That’s why I had Mike take over content creation.
This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert from day one, but you need at the very least to learn about the specific topic you’re writing about before starting.
Otherwise, task switching is going to kill your writing speed.
What’s task switching? It’s a concept that refers to having to switch between different activities. For example, having to switch from writing mode to research mode because you don’t understand a concept you need for a particular article.
While some may multitask better than others, we all are more productive when we focus on a single task.
Dr. David Meyer and colleagues conducted a study in 2001 to quantify the effects of task switching. He had subjects try to switch between different tasks such as solving math problems and naming geometric objects.
When both problems were simple, subjects didn’t lose much time going back and forth. But as the tasks became complex, the subjects lost more and more time with each switch.
It’s hard to pin down the exact cost of switching, but Meyer estimated that it could cost someone up to 40% of their productivity for complex tasks. Make no mistake, writing and researching are complex tasks.
Every time you have to switch, it not only takes a bit of time (up to a few seconds) to get into the right mindset, but it also fatigues you. Just thinking about having to switch back and forth several times an hour makes me tired.
Here’s the takeaway: learn everything you need to know about the topic you are writing about before you write a single word. This means that you should note down any relevant statistics, resources, or findings from studies beforehand.
6. Write first, edit later
Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is garbage.”
I’m not sure how much fiction you read, but Hemingway was one of the most influential authors of the 20th century.
He won a Nobel Prize in Literature and a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction before he died. Even now, we remember his writing genius.
If Hemingway thought his first drafts were garbage, imagine what he’d think of mine or yours.
So, you basically have two options if you want to write a post that doesn’t suck.
First, you can continually edit each sentence and paragraph as you go. Or you can write your first draft like most prolific writers do, and then edit later.
Both can produce a good article, but I’ll tell you why the second option is by far the best choice.
If you continually switch between writing and editing, you have the same problem that we looked at before: task switching. You’re asking your brain to switch from trying to write to trying to edit. This kills any writing momentum you have and makes you start from scratch every sentence or paragraph.
When you write—just write—you can focus on writing only. This allows your mind to focus on what you should write now and what should come next. Similarly, when you’re editing, all your focus can be on “how can I make this better?” instead of also trying to think of what needs to be said next.
In my experience, Meyer’s guess of about a 40% decrease in productivity from task switching is probably about right.
Write first, edit second.
7. Take (smart) breaks
Unless you’re a robot, you need breaks. All people get tired.
Sure, you can get stronger over time, but you’ll still need breaks.
Everyone’s different in this aspect. Some need frequent breaks, while others only need breaks after a few hours. It depends on how much you enjoy writing, your writing ability, and a few personal factors.
If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend the Pomodoro Technique. Yes, pomodoro means “tomato” in Italian, so essentially it’s a tomato technique. It’s named after the timer that the creator used:
It was designed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. Even though it’s not new, it hasn’t been until the last decade or so that it really became popular as a productivity technique.
Here’s how it works:
- You set a timer for 25 minutes
- You work until the timer finishes
- You take a 5 minute break
- All of that is one Pomodoro
Now you repeat that process four times. After the 4th 30-minute period, you take a 15-20 minute break.
You can either buy a pomodoro timer or just use this online tomato timer.
This procedure is supposed to keep you focused and fresh while working.
For accountability purposes, you are supposed to start the day by making a to-do list of what you’d like to accomplish.
You put an “X” beside each item to indicate how many pomodoro periods (25 minutes of work) it took to finish.
“You will probably begin to notice a difference in your work or study process within a day or two. True mastery of the technique takes from seven to twenty days of constant use.”
The final piece of the system is dealing with interruptions. There are two types of interruptions: internal and external.
Internal interruptions are thoughts that are distracting you from working. With this system, if they are important tasks, you are supposed to write them down on your to-do sheet so that you can be sure they will get done later.
External interruptions are from other people and things (phones, emails, etc.). The pomodoro system suggests to deal with such interruptions as quickly as possible. Tell the people who want your attention now to come back later or promise them you’ll call them back as soon as you can (on a break). In the meantime, get back to work.
8. Give yourself a deadline
Parkinson’s law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
This means if you give yourself too much time to finish something, or that you don’t think it matters when you finish it, it will take longer to do. Either you’ll procrastinate because you know you can do it quickly, or it’ll become increasingly complex, which will result in accomplishing something other than what you set out to do.
Think about how most people study for a test. They put it off as long as possible and then cram everything in at the last possible minute.
While it’s not optimal from a learning point of view, it illustrates that people are capable of working extremely quickly when there’s a firm deadline that must be met.
The problem many professional writers have is that they give themselves a day to write a post, even if they may not need it. They say that if they finish early, they’ll start working on something else—but they never do finish early because the work expands to fill the available time.
When you start writing a post, you need to have a clear idea of what you want to include in the post, nothing more. Then, give yourself a deadline for writing the post, which is equal to the minimum amount of time you think you might need.
Remember that this is just for writing the post, which you want to do as quickly as possible. The quality really comes from the editing. You should still have a deadline, but don’t make it strict since you will need your creativity and careful thought.
Don’t limit deadlines to your writing only. You can also set a deadline for checking emails in the morning. Most people spend over 2 hours on email a day, when they could probably reduce it to two 10-minute periods, in the morning and at night, if they set a hard deadline.
9. Write during your most productive time
You’ve heard that some people work better in the morning and some at night, right?
Morning people are called “early birds,” while people who prefer the night are called “night owls.”
It turns out that there’s a significant amount of science backing up this phenomenon. German scientists found that night owls had a different brain composition than early risers.
This affects your circadian rhythm, which is responsible for controlling your sleep schedule and alertness throughout your day. Dr. Katherine Sharkey says that night owls have longer circadian rhythms than early risers.
We don’t need to know exactly how it works to see how it affects how we write.
If you find that you’re much more productive in the morning, write in the morning.
If you find that you’re much more productive in the evening, write in the evening.
You will accomplish more in one really productive hour of writing than you would with more time but struggling to focus.
10. Use simple words
Do you ever pause while writing in order to think of the perfect word?
If so, you’re wasting time.
When it comes to blog posts, or any type of web content, your writing should be simple.
People have very limited attention spans and like to skim. Jakob Nielson collected data that shows an average visitor reads just 20-28% of the words in a post. If they can’t skim it, they usually skip it. That means your perfect word won’t even be read by most.
When you read complex words, it takes longer to understand them. It’s partly because they are complex words, but it’s also because we don’t see them often.
So not only do complicated words and sentences confuse and deter your readers but they also slow down your writing. Instead of just stopping and thinking about which word to use, write the simplest alternative that comes to mind.
Instead of “convoluted,” write “complex”.
Instead of “disastrous,” write “poor”.
Instead of “proficiency,” write “skill.”
Get what I’m saying? Here are 24 more examples.
If you want to see how you’re doing, put one of your blog posts into this readability score calculator.
Here are the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scores of a few popular writers. I write at about a 4th-grade level. If you use complex words often, your score will be much higher.
11. The one factor behind all great writers
I’ve given you 10 concepts so far that can help you write faster without rushing and sacrificing quality.
Even if you apply all of these overnight, you still won’t write as quickly as I do by tomorrow.
Writing quickly takes practice, a lot of practice.
Malcolm Gladwell estimates that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. If you write five hours a day, five days a week, that’s about eight years.
I’m probably getting pretty close to that number.
But even if you’re not close, you will get better every step of the way there. So, don’t get discouraged if you can only write 300 words per hour right now. Over time, if you’re truly working on writing faster, it will creep up to 310, then 320, then 350, and so on…
In just a year or two, you might be writing 1,000 words per hour—sooner if you’re a quick learner.
Imagine that for a second: you could effectively double or triple the value of your time. That’s huge.
If you apply just one concept in this article, you can probably increase your writing speed by over 10% within a few days.
If you currently write for 20 hours a week at a rate of 500 words per hour, a 10% improvement alone will give you an extra 1,000 words per week. This is about an article a week for most blogs or 52 extra articles per year without spending any extra time.
If you really take the concepts I’ve laid out here to heart and apply more than one, you could see an even bigger improvement.