Writing at the Speed of Light.
November 1, 2012 1:04 PM   Subscribe

How can I become a faster writer?

I got a paid internship with a marketing agency—yay! But I need to increase my writing speed. Writing has always been a painstaking process for me, and currently I can only churn out two full blog posts and the first third or half of another within a span of eight hours. My supervisor suggested that I get to a point where I can write five a day by the end of the year, so I’m trying to consider how I can speed up my process.

I realize part of my problem is trying to edit/write at the same time, so I know I definitely need to work on that. But I’m wondering what else I can do to increase my writing speed. I have three issues besides the simultaneous writing/editing problem:

1.) Conducting research in a time-efficient manner. The other day, for example, I was writing about the best events to attend in Client X’s city during the holiday season. Sometimes I would choose an event to write about, look up additional information regarding that event and then find out that for whatever reason that event would not be taking place this year, meaning I’d just wasted precious time researching essentially useless info. Even when this doesn’t happen, it takes me awhile to find more information on an event, then choose what to write and how to phrase it in my own words. Which leads me to Issue #2…

2.) Figuring out how to phrase things in my own words and still have the writing sound good. It’s difficult for me to paraphrase writing that’s already concise into writing that’s also concise and not awkward-sounding. Sometimes I’ll unconsciously lift a word from my source material, then when I look at it again I’ll realize what I’ve done and I have to stop and fine-tune what I thought was good to go.

3.) Another thing that slows me down is culling information from multiple sources. The other day I consulted multiple websites about fun events in Client X’s city, because I figure whoever reads my blog post might just enter “Events in Client X’s City,” see that the top result lists the exact same things as my post, and know that I just re-dressed that list. This definitely slows me down, though, so should I just dismiss this concern altogether? I don’t even know why this matters so much to me, because I have definitely come across two web pages with similar but differently-worded content.

Here are some things I’ve come with as potential ways to improve:

1.) Reading more and using the Internet less to improve my
focus/become a faster reader/brush up on my turns of phrase so I have a bigger mental word bank

2.) Working to increase my typing speed

3.) Looking at similar writing to get ideas on different ways to write about these things so I’m not stuck trying to figure out how to write about them.

4.) Randomly picking out sentences and thinking of different ways to re-word them

Do you have any other suggestions or advice for me?
posted by dean_deen to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You need to get on a mailing list or email blast list for various events--most cities have some sort of master calendar--hook up with some local PR firms, and your inbox will be flooded with this stuff (make a separate email address for this.)

Using a word from a press release or source is not a big deal. If you're going to be a paid blogger, you need to be able to distill a press release down to the essential elements quickly. Don't agonize over your prose--make each word count, and include the usual--who, where, when, what and why.

No one will care if your top ten list is the same as another top ten list. But reach out to PR firms and let them come to you.

I've been a paid blogger, and speed and timely updates are what keep your content fresh and get you hits. 2.5 posts a day isn't going to do it, as I'm sure you know. Most of the time, you don't need to rewrite and rewrite--dash it off, polish it and post. It's not like writing an essay for creative lit 101. Find your own voice--write like you talk--and after a while, you'll be able to pound these posts out without a lot of agony.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:15 PM on November 1, 2012

On Writing Faster

Oh and the Slate article seems to've moved. How To Write Faster.
posted by chrchr at 1:18 PM on November 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

You need to find your voice. I think part of the problem is that you're sounding markety, or generic and it doesn't come naturally. Is there a way that your posts can sound like you, rather than like something that was cranked out of a factory?

For example, how long did it take to type up your question here? Probably not all that long.

One thing I do is just type away like a fiend. I've practiced and practiced and I can write FAST! You want to be able to keep up with your thoughts. (You can see how my spelling suffers from this.)

As for editing, that's what you do last. Just write it. Sometimes I'll block on a word and I know that if I think hard enough, it will come, but to keep moving I'll type XXX and come back to it on a second pass.

When looking up events in a location, always re-google with Event Name 2012. That way you'll get the most current stuff.

If you're repackaging stuff from other sites, so what? One word between friends is fine, especially if you're driving traffic to their site and feet to their event. Don't fret so much.

Also, if you're just re-wording things from other sites, why do you need to do it at all? Perhaps you can do a theme? Alternative sports, like Roller Derby or IHL Hockey. Kid friendly stuff. Etc.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:23 PM on November 1, 2012

This is a practice thing. You get faster with practice. Heh.

You're also working too hard for blog posts for a marketing agency. They'll be three times as impressed if you do half as good a job but do it twice as fast.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 1:38 PM on November 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Important question: how long are the posts supposed to be?

After a few months into my professional blogging career (ha! but yeah, really,) I could get through a solid, info- and link-filled post (300 words) in about 45 minutes-1.5 hours, and I was doing one or two a day.

If you're doing five a day, your goal should be to constantly trim them down. This is pretty hard if, like me, you're a painstaking writer, and if, in your desire to provide valuable info, you're also striving to be thorough.

Keeping things as absolutely concise as you can is great on all fronts--less research is required, it takes less time to write, and frankly, people generally don't read lengthy stuff anyway.

The other thing that helped me was to sit down in advance and make a big list of catchy titles to use throughout the week. "Our Favorite Uses of Yellow in Home Office Decor", "3 Easy Steps to Reduce Eye Strain", etc, etc. It makes things go a lot faster if you don't have to come up with the idea on the spot and it gives your research focus. All of these help speed up the process of actually producing the post.

Lastly, instead of making a post about the best events in your city when such listings already exist, why not make a post that's a roundup of the listings? "Best Resources to Find Fun Events in City X" or what have you. "Listicles" like that can be really useful to people Googling down the road, if you really do find the good stuff (rather than just using it as a filler post).
posted by lhall at 1:56 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Initially the minimum word count was 600, which I really struggled with at first because I tend toward the concise side. But recently the company head told us that the number of words don't matter--as long as it gets the message across.
posted by dean_deen at 3:54 PM on November 1, 2012

I used to supervise blogging interns, and my first thought is 600 words for a blog post? That's really long! For the type of stuff you're describing, I'd say 200-300 words is a much more reasonable range.

But, one of the best ways to get faster is to cut out the time you spend thinking about how to organize your information. Look at well-written blogs in your industry, or really at any popular, high-volume blog (Buzzfeed, or any of the Gawker Media empire) and you'll notice that most posts fall into half a dozen categories: news items, product reviews, top X lists, link roundups, talk in the comments about controversial topic X, tips and tricks...it's very easy to spot the formulas that are relevant to your industry once you start looking.

Then, every week you come up with 3-5 ideas that fall into each of the formula categories, and writing a post becomes more like filling out a Mad Libs and less like writing a term paper.

Also, FWIW, 300 words an hour would make you what I would consider a very efficient writer, and 7 hours a day is pretty much the maximum of writing time anyone I've met can handle without being on the fast track to burnout. If they're really expecting more than 2000 words of copy a day, I would suspect that either a) they don't have a ton of experience doing this and have slightly unreasonable expectations, b) it's an extremely high-turnover position or c) they've developed some sort of secret productivity formula that they should be teaching you.
posted by psycheslamp at 5:22 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

To clarify, not everything I write about has to do with events--that's just one example. It really just depends on what the client's focus is. But to answer some of your suspicions, psycheslamp, it's a pretty new company, so a) is true; b} has yet to be seen--I'm their first intern, and they recently offered to let me bump up to full-time. I really want to be a religion reporter, so I'm wondering if I should put that goal on the backburner for awhile and focus on this, since I have some student debt to pay off, it will help me write faster and hey, it's not food service! But then again, the kind of writing I do for the company--especially at such a rapid (well, for me anyways) pace--is not the kind of thing I would ever include in a portfolio. Eventually they'd like me to write 12,000 words a week, but they said to start I would tentatively be expected to produce 7,000 and work my way up. Should I go full-time, or keep at it part-time and start building up some journalism experience somewhere else?

Part of my problem is that I don't feel really excited about marketing. But I don't have a marketing background, so maybe once I learn more about it, I'll become more invested in it. I don't know what I should do.
posted by dean_deen at 6:57 AM on November 2, 2012

Learning to write fast, clear and on deadline is good training for any kind of reporter. If you stick with this, you've got samples to show editors. I'd look for free-lance opportunities while you're blogging about a marketing firm, and then grow from there--you can still investigate religious events and congregations, etc., in your spare time. Plenty of full-time writers have sprung from writing blog posts, marketing copy and so on. And trust me--not every journalist is excited about every single story. Part of being a pro is writing well anyway.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:12 PM on November 3, 2012

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