How to Improve Your Writing Speed and Quality Simultaneously

One friend of mine publishes multiple novels per year. He is incredibly prolific in a way that sickens those of us who struggle to get our words out. For the longest time, I thought he was doing it wrong. Turns out, I was the one who was wrong.

How to Improve Your Writing Speed Without Hurting Your Writing Quality

As a writer, I had this snobbish idea that the best, most meaningful work happened slowly and painstakingly. But that’s just not true. One of the most important skills for a writer to learn is how to write quickly.

One of the most important skills for a writer to learn is how to write quickly.

Jeff Goins

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This is something I learned from NaNoWrimo, when I was in the middle of a mad dash to write 50,000 of a new novel from scratch. Not only was it the first time I’d written fiction in over ten years, it was the first time I’d ever attempted to write an entire book in one month, period.

What I learned from the process is that you can write faster than you think.

Why am I a fan of fast writing? A few reasons:

  • Because the first step to writing anything is to get the words out. Whether that’s a book or a blog post, your job is to get it done, now.
  • Because the faster you get the words out, the sooner you can start editing. And as we all know, all good writing is rewriting.
  • Because the faster you write, the more you write. And the more you write, the better you write.

In the end, writing is about quantity. Quality follows quantity, and we all have the power to get more of our writing out there, if we’re willing to learn how to become faster writers.

The faster you write, the more you write. The more you write, the better you write.

Jeff Goins

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Write faster to write better

Blogging, coupled with the discipline of writing every day, allowed me to increase not only my writing output, but my writing speed. And as that’s happened, I’ve become a better and more prolific writer.

I think the same can be true for you. Here’s how you start writing faster without letting the quality of your work suffer.

1. Commit to writing daily

Just pick something. I shoot for at least 500 words a day, sometimes more. If I’m working on a blog post, I break it into chunks and tackle them one at a time. If I have a 1500-word article to write, I spend three days writing it.

The point is to get the words down as quickly as possible, and in order to do that you first have to have a time and place to write daily. For more on that, check out my free 31-day writing challenge at my500words.com (you’ll get access to a free writing accountability group along with it!).

2. Commit to editing later

When I was working on my novel, I misspelled obvious, ordinary words that I learned in grade school. Every grammar nerd bone in me wanted to go back and fix those mistakes, but I also knew that my job wasn’t to write a publishable book in a month. It was to finish a manuscript.

Understanding your goal is essential to crossing the finish line in any project. I knew that once the novel was finished, I’d have something to edit. But the editing comes after the writing, not before.

Remember, writing is three things, not one thing. It is coming up with ideas, drafting those ideas into pieces, then editing those pieces so they can be published. For more on that, see my three-bucket system.

3. Commit to a deadline

I always write fastest when I have a deadline. I’m not perfect at this, but I’ve noticed this is a major distinction between professional writers and amateurs. All the professionals I know are pretty crazy about hitting deadlines. They understand this is what separates them from the pretenders. The goal is not perfection, but consistency. And nothing moves a writer like a deadline.

In this case, I have to finish this article in the next five minutes before I pack up and go home for the day. And so I’m averaging about 90 words per minute.

You can do incredible things when you’re backed up against a wall. I like blogging for this reason, because it sets the expectation that you show up, and when you don’t, people notice. So set a deadline, let people know when it is, and make sure you don’t disappoint them.

Nothing moves a writer like a deadline.

Jeff Goins

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It’s a means, not an end

Keep in mind that writing fast for the sake of being fast is not the goal. It’s about writing fast so that you can get more work done, which will allow you to get better, and to share more of your words with more people.

What you should measure is not how fast you are compared to me or anyone else, but how fast you are now to how fast you were yesterday. The goal is growth, not arriving at any given point.

As you grow in your writing speed, your quality and output will soon follow.

How fast do you typically write? Do you struggle with creating quality and quantity? Share in the comments.

112 thoughts on “How to Improve Your Writing Speed and Quality Simultaneously

  1. Great post, Jeff. I think most writers would be envious of your friend!

    My biggest challenge to writing fast is the perfectionist in me that wants to write and rewrite and rewrite and perfect and polish all at once.

    I’d love to read a more fleshed out version of your section “Commit to editing later” that included tips for fighting that need to rewrite or fix a spelling mistake in the moment. Is it just discipline or is there more?

    1. Thanks, Lacie. I think that’s like saying you envy the strong guy or gal in the gym. I mean, sure, we can envy him. But it’s kind of obvious, right? If we do what these people did, we can have what they have.

      Regarding editing later, I think you have to decide on a daily word count. Once you hit that, then you can go back and edit if you like. But if editing gets in the way of the word count scrap it. That’s what tomorrow is. I explain this more in the 3-bucket system post above.

  2. Makes perfect sense. I too want to go back as I’m writing and correct each word or spelling as I’m writing. I did however, start implementing this, as I type on the computer, correcting words that my fingers errantly construe, but I have learned it’s much more economical to type the whole thing out and go back and correct in the second phase of writing, say, an email that needs to go out right away. I never really considered however, how this contributes to writing faster = writing more=writing better. Thanks for the tip Jeff.

  3. This is a good and insightful piece, but it’s only a half-truth. Because there’s also truth in the notion that the best writing is done slowly and painstakingly.

    Part of great writing is great research. Great research, of necessity, takes time. There are also problems today with what gets considered “great” or “excellent” writing. I’m a Fantasy/Sci-Fi reader and I’m familiar with a guy named Piers Anthony. I haven’t read him a quite a while now, but I recall that he used to write three novels per year. Well, I can tell you that Piers had plenty of excellent story ideas, but his actual writing wasn’t always all that good, and his writing style was not the best.

    Writing faster in order to spit out a lot more competent but mediocre stuff isn’t really good for the writer or the world.

    1. And Isaac Asimov typically put out twelve books a year, including SF, mystery, YA, popular nonfiction, and academic textbooks. His publisher trusted his work so much, they gave him carte blance to write anything he wanted for his 100th book. And they say, “If you can’t understand (a particular science) get a book by Asimov,” because he does such a good job of explaining it.

    2. I agree, Brant. You need to research. But research isn’t writing. All I’m saying is write faster, and you’ll get more words that you can edit and make better sooner. You don’t have to rush the process. Just get the words down. I thought my article addressed this. I think you CAN write quickly and write well. Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in six weeks. The story was in him, he just had to get it out. Of course, he spent months editing it. But that’s still pretty quickly. I would never say that he wrote faster just to “spit out” a lot more content, and I wouldn’t say it was mediocre, either. Ray Bradbury said, “Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”

  4. When I get my fingers on the keyboard – I can write about 2500 words in 2 hours. And finish a 60,000 word draft in about 30 days. My problems are my brain wants to detail-plan my characters, my plot, my conflicts, my solutions, ….. And anything else needed for the story. Additionally, I tend to feel compelled to be factual to a fault wihen sometimes a bit of “creative belief” is needed. And I have a hate/love relationship with writer friends who turn out 3 books and a novella year — I seem to need 18 months for one book! HELP.

    1. Not having a finished novel under my belt, I may not be qualified to give advice, but have you ever tried creating a character and then writing their diary? It’s sort of a forced-pantser mode where, even if you have an idea where the story’s going, you have to take it as it comes, and it might not go where you think it does. If your character doesn’t KNOW a fact, they can’t state it with absolution. Maybe nothing of note happens on that day. So what? You can edit it out later.

      And if you put said character in a completely fictitious world, then there’s no “facts” to get sidetracked by.

  5. Great post, Jeff. I have gotten so good (bad) at correcting errors while I type that I correct without thinking. Comes from 30 years of secretarial work, where you didn’t have time to edit so you’d better get it right the first time. Now I’m learning to write so that my process is more efficient – which means leaving the editing for later.

    1. I’ve got that problem, too. A lot of times, my fingers know as they’re typing that something went in wrong, and they automatically start to backspace to the error. I wonder if it wastes more time for fight the urge to correct the error that it does to just let my fingers correct it, or worse–the mistype will be so bad I can’t figure out what I was trying to say when I get around to proofing it. (I’ve tried typing some free association–even if I edit right away, I’m not always sure what I was trying to say. If a day or three passed, it might be hopeless)

  6. Sometimes people go reverse like when they focus on quality they loose speed, when they write fast they lose quality. You have real nicely shared how to keep quality and maintain speed same time.

    1. Actually, the way to improve both is to work on them in alternation. Have a session typing for accuracy, then have one typing for speed.

  7. Excellent post and great inspiration for those of us that want to return to the habit of writing fast. I said the habit of writing fast because the new and fast pace of technology has the tendency to draw you away from those traditions of just putting things down on paper… something a lot of us grow up with our assignments, our exams.. but things have changed. I love the writing in chunks and getting something down on paper every day…I am starting with a to do list and of course my thoughts on paper for the day. Thank you for sharing

  8. I try to get words out faster, but it seems like everything conspires against me. My laptops start “not hearing” keystrokes (very annoying when it takes you five tries to get an uppercase strike). Even on mechanical keyboards, my fingers move the keys, but only the computer only hears about 95% of the strokes. Or else they’ll “kick around” the keystrokes–once I keyed in “12” FIVE TIMES and each time it came up as “21”! Try to search for reviews about the accuracy and reliability of keyboards and all that comes back are pages of systems to help you type better.

    I tried voice recognition, but aside from “mic choke” (I don’t have a problem speaking live, but something about knowing my voice is going to be set down–possibly forever–makes me freeze up), I have a problem getting the mic in a position where it can hear my voice, but not mistake my breathing for dictation. Then I spend as much time correcting the transcription as I would have just typing it in in the first place.

      1. I never had these keyboard issues 20 years ago using typewriters or DOS-based computers. These problems have cropped up in the last 10 years, adn seem to be consistent across every macnheine I use.

        Here’s what my Dell gives me when I type the classic “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”:

        he quick brown fox jumped ove the lazy dog.

  9. Wonderful post! Deadlines acts like a threatened call which makes me to just write with the flow and keep the momentum. I enjoy this challenging part though. It becomes risky sometimes but it has been beneficial in several times. Writing fast has its own beauty. I keep my struggle tight to write fast and create quality, not quantity.

  10. I think the biggest struggle we all face is how to turn off our Inner Critic that prevents us from “getting the words out.” It’s that voice in our head that says “no, that’s not right” or “no that sentence is awful” or “no you need to plan ahead.” I’ve finally gotten past this in the last year by countering such thoughts with reminders that a first draft is one thing and one thing only: Play. It’s where you pour out words without inhibitions, allow them to go wherever they desire, make mistakes along the way (grammatically, structurally, factually, whatever) and just come to the keyboard with a fun, fearless attitude that sees no fault in the words on screen. Without this perspective, I wouldn’t have finished a 75,000 word novel in two months. And you know what? The novel is freaking awful. 😉 But that’s what editing is for, and you can’t edit if you don’t have words on the page. So get ’em down, folks, and have fun with it! You might be surprised at what shows up.

  11. Question, Jeff. Does your prolific novel-writing friend draft out his books beforehand, as a plotter, or does he discover the story as he writes it, as a pantster?

    Just curious. Thanks for the great post.

  12. I was the expert of the week in a C level group recently. I had to answer questions 3x a day. I ended up writing a few hundred words or more per question. There were numerous per day. The words flew off my fingers. Likely because I wasn’t thinking I have to write a lot but rather I was writing because I had a deadline (Now) and was just trying to be helpful. It made me realize how fast you can write when you have to and how that can translate into daily writing. Sometimes it is more about uncovering roadblocks like being overly critical and overthinking. Your post helped solidify that thinking for me, so thanks Jeff!

  13. Jeff, thank you for this post. This seems more manageable for me and makes sense. I have so many thoughts in my head and don’t know where to start at times. When I just start writing on paper, I find my thoughts take shape and I have something to work with

  14. Thanks Jeff for another hot topic for writers. The longer I write, now that I take my writing seriously, the more I need to remind myself to let go of being perfect, of saying it right & simply write. Bad writing means my thoughts are not jelling. Good writing is rare. All writing needs rewriting.

  15. Tom Bird teaches writers it’s divine to speed write and that the best authors are those who practise speed writing because it’s a form of channeling the spirit of the book in us to write itself through us. To him, speed is a sign we’ve gotten out of the way and we’re letting our creations be birthed. He believes fast writing is better writing. I’m still working though that thought to know what I think of it myself.

  16. During NaNo, I let my inner editor loose as I read the previous day’s chapter before writing the next. This year, while I am reading through, if there’s anything I can fix quick, such as an additional punctuation mark, or a word or words that need adding in, I’ll do them, but I refuse to take anything out, or work on tenses etc. So all in all, the editor in me is under control, which, given I spend the rest of my days editing, is huge for me

      1. Thanks Jeff! My story is far from finished, but as of right now I’m at 48,899 words this month, so I must be doing something right. Grin. I’ll bust through 50,000 today, then break for Thanksgiving before getting back to it

          1. Thanks again, Jeff! I’ve today begun my second personal NaNo of the year after the first completed 50k barely scratched the surface of the story. Instead of writing every day, I’ll now write during weekdays only and if I decide to give myself a day off when my other half is out of town next week, then I will. I’d hoped to have the first draft completed by Christmas, and still do, but if it doesn’t happen then I’m also okay with that. The important thing is to keep going while not burning out. I will do this and will celebrate every word towards the new goal

  17. This is great information, thank you. I learned to increase my speed and not attempt “perfect” thanks to following Dean Wesley Smith, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Just reading Dean’s posts every day (and Kris’s “pursuit of perfection” piece), made me realize that the only way to get better is to write. I was inspired by them and I noticed that simply talking about my writing count every day inspires others too. Doing that has made me write faster. I went from a year to write a book, down to 6 months, then 3 months, and even did one (80,000+ words on average) a few months ago in only 1.5 months! I was shocked. And I am by FAR not a speed writer, nor do I write every day. Sometimes not on the weekend, sometimes just not on Sunday.

    I try to tell people exactly what you said though. It’s not a competition for them, it’s my own. I want to increase my speed and production for ME. Nobody else. I honestly just like to. It’s fun to try to beat my old records. Also the more I get done, the more story ideas I can pursue, which for me is my ultimate “yay!” moment.

    The editing while I work is my difficulty, haha. I will fix words and sentences as I go because I can’t seem to stop myself. I don’t do major edits, but those minor fixes I can’t help myself. They’d distract me way too much.

  18. i found this diagram of how long it took several authors to write a book really interesting. https://electricliterature.com/infographic-how-long-did-famous-novels-take-to-write-eed69f38ccf0#.mui592ogh

    Each author has their own approach. It took J.D Salinger 10 years to write Catcher In The Rye and Fitzgerald 2.5 years to write The Great Gatsby. As long as you’re writing is the most important thing. In some cases, speed could be tied to momentum for some writers. It’s important to note that we usually only see the finished product–not the editing process.

  19. Well, I typically don’t write much. Last February I wrote 50,000 words, just to see if I could do it. (I called it a book and sent it to my sister to look over; I don’t think she did, or if she did, she found it repulsive and didn’t have the heart to tell me so.) So I suppose that’s my writing speed in case of necessity, if I put my mind to it. 29 days – 50,000 words. On the other hand, I signed up with a group of people who write blog posts for others for money; I thought I could do that; but after researching the matter and seeing that other writers’ work was rejected for things like use of the passive voice, I couldn’t write a single word! I just went back to last February’s ‘book’, and am using an app that highlights passive constructions – which though out of favor, are probably still a legitimate part of English grammar – and I’m trying to find alternative ways of expressing my ideas.

  20. Oh Jeff, loved it!
    I am suffering under my own weight. I write so slowly. I’m like an old crippled man sluggishly dragging my blog posts over the finish line.

    I seriously need to write faster because I am not consistent enough at posting. I’m just going to go rambo everyday. Thanks for the inspiration.

      1. Wow. I thought it would be so much longer. I am certain, I’m doing as you said. Thinking too much. I just need to write and edit it later. Thanks.

    1. Agree with Jeff. I’m currently writing a piece long hand. Two notebook pages (~550 words) take me 30 minutes. On the computer, it should go much faster if you can touch-type.

      1. If I wrote that fast, I wouldn’t be able to read it five minutes later. I’ve been logging my typing time with this novel, and I’m running 13-20 wpm, depending on how much I use the backspace key and how often I have to stop to figure out what the guy (let’s just say he never took a writing course) is trying to say. That’d be about 23 minutes to type your 550 words. Straight typing, I can flirt with 40 wpm, and that’s with only a one-quarter typing course back in sixth grade that I’ve never really made a serious attempt at improving. That would cut your typing down to around 14 minutes. A decent typist can do 70 wpm, and the good ones can do 90 wpm.

        1. “If I wrote that fast, I wouldn’t be able to read it five minutes later.” – Yes, a challenge for me as well 🙂 I like long hand because it just feels good – then I re-read it into Dragon Naturally Speaking software and do my edits simultaneously. If I don’t think, I can type at 60wpm but usually I’m around 40wpm because I think about my typing too much.

          Another reason to write long-hand: I can’t check Facebook as easily 😉

          1. Long-hand’s good for first drafts because there’s no backspace key. But having to write it twice often ends up taking more time overall than typing it in the first place.

            Same argument applies to Dragon. I spend as much time in correcting Dragon’s transcriptions as I would have typing it out in the first place.

            1. Totally agree with you. Typing is definitely faster. I learned about a short-story contest expiring a week from when I read it so I typed that story in order to make the deadline. Otherwise, I like the intimacy, etc. Only fiction though, I find I’m fine typing blog posts, essays, etc.

  21. Hi Jeff, Good direction. Good idea. I am finishing my comments fast to go for writing. to set my timer to write. thank you.

  22. I just finished the first draft of a 60K word novel in two months (51 writing days). My daily goal is 1,000 words. I don’t correct as I write, but I do edit the morning’s work in the afternoon. I also try to spend an hour out in the yard with a notebook planning out the next day’s scenes. By the time I was done with the first draft I had a clean manuscript that is now with my publisher. Having a daily goal allows me to gain strength from achieving a goal each day, rather than having one all-encompassing goal, such as “i’m going to write a novel in 60 days.” Not sure if my methods would work for others, but it’s working for me.

    1. Mark, I like the idea of editing the morning’s work in the afternoon. It’s still fresh in your mind, you tweak and edit and then it’s DONE. That means the next day your head is fresh to look at your planner and get busy with that day’s task. Good for you!

  23. What a challenge this post is, Jeff. It makes me revisit some thought processes I thought were set for good. When faced with a deadline, I had to be organized before I even sat down at the keyboard. Other articles were produced at a more relaxed pace – probably because I neglected to organize before sitting.

    Did you ever have a story that just flowed out on its own from start to finish, that needed only small typographical corrections and no major fixes? The lead chapter/premise of my current WIP is like that, 7,000+ words, and it just flowed out in an evening and the following day. However the remaining need planning and care – and rewriting, making mileage somewhere under 500 words per day.

    There is much to be said for building a habit of so many words per day (or productive hour, if you think that way). Writing those words fast encourages thinking faster, and keeping one’s self on one’s toes both physically and mentally is not a bad thing.

    Thank you.

  24. Great advice, Jeff. I can’t stress enough the process of writing without editing. As a chronic perfectionist, I’m always temped but here’s a trick I developed that stopped that bad habit allowing me to continue with my story line: Brackets. If I ever wanted a better word, or realized I didn’t know some facts, I insert a quick comment in brackets (e.g. [is that the right word?] or [need to look up blast furnace process]). This keeps me firmly seated in my train of thought. I think I borrowed this idea from Star Trek writers who, while writing dialogue, would write “[technical jargon]” where needed.

  25. Very true; writing fast ultimately means writing better. It is not must to publish whatever one writes. Some of it may be published on other blogs as guest post, some may be junked and some may be reserved to counter writer’s block.

  26. Writing fast is definitely my struggle. Sometimes, I catch myself thinking about a sentence when I am two or three sentences past it. Your constant encouragement to “just write” is helping me, though. Thanks! I am also trying to implement suggestions from Joe Bunting such as cover up or don’t even look at the screen as you go. How do you break up your time between writing and editing? Do you edit every day?

  27. Very interesting – I never thought about speeding up as a means to improving…ok, that will be my push to start doing that now!

  28. Thanks for this Jeff! I really like the 3-bucket system. I often time myself to write whether it’s free writing, blog writing, or working on my book. It’s the only way I can fit writing into my hectic day. 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there. And time seems to slow down when I do timed writing sessions; I’m always amazed at how much I can get written in a short amount of time. Especially when I concentrate on just getting words out – no editing.

    Turns out I love writing and hate editing, lol.

    1. I, however, love to edit. A long time ago one boss mentioned there are three things in life: death, taxes, and the desire to edit someone else’s work. I’ve discovered that I am indeed a very good editor. About 20 years ago I had a boss that I couldn’t stand. He was a horrible manager, but he would read the summaries of his consultants and edit. I basically learned editing from him as he quickly turned a phrase, deleted or made subtle changes. So that was the good thing that came out of that bad boss!

  29. A huge thank you for this wake-up call Jeff! I call myself a writer, but at the moment, it seems I’m more of a dreamer. This totally came at the right time. I’ve always been caught up in the quantity vs. quality thinking that having both at the same time could be nice. Unfortunately, that only comes once in a blue moon.

  30. I loved this piece; short, punchy, to-the-point. Plenty of articles like it drone on and on and overwhelm you.

  31. When I started writing I was given this advice: ‘Just get the words onto paper as you can’t edit a blank page!’ I have always kept this in mind and it really helps when I reach the halfway mark in a book and it can feel a little overwhelming. Holding the finished manuscript in my hands afterwards is worth pushing forward for. I’ve shared this blog on social media and my blog lizziechantree.com as it will inspire writers to write. I write a 70,000-80,000 word novel in about 8-10 months. I have no idea if this is fast or slow!

  32. Hi, im a 13 year old and for about a month and a half I’ve been writing a fiction novel. i looked up how long a book needs to be to be considered a novel, and found that standard is 40,000 to 50,000 words. mine is currently at 9,786 to be exact. is there any way i can expand it? like adding more descriptions to things?

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