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How to Improve Writing Speed?

Discussion in 'Freelancing' started by Shaun, Aug 4, 2014.

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  1. I've recently been looking at how to improve my hourly freelance writing rate.

    Obviously, there are two core components of this: the rates I charge and the speed I write.

    For my experience, I'm happy with what I charge. I don't see this as something that I can improve on in the short term.

    For now I want to focus on my writing speed. Do any of the other freelance writers here (or non-freelancers!) have any tips for improving speed? What does your hourly output tend to look like, factoring in the time it takes to edit and format?

    I know I've picked up some bad habits along the way, the major one being editing as I write, but I'm hoping to put this right. It wouldn't surprise me if it takes me more than twice as long to write my articles as some of the more efficient writers, so there's definite room for improvement!
  2. Hey Shaun,

    I feel your pain; I'm a slow writer. Here are a few tips I've learned.

    Firstly, as far as raising rates, I think that's always an option. You can set a higher minimum for future jobs, start quoting higher prices (try just raising by $10/post), and ask for a raise from current clients. If you know you're providing them with real value, it's no big deal to let them know you've evaluated your rates and are raising them, and negotiate from there.

    Now, as far as writing faster, the #1 tip I can give you is to do things in batches. Let's say I have 5 articles due in a few days. Here's how I break it up into batches:
    1. Today I'll research them all, taking notes and creating a rough outline.
    2. Tomorrow I'll write rough drafts from my notes. The key here is to write really, really sloppy first drafts. My first drafts are terrible. I just keep writing and don't look back. Don't correct spelling, don't correct your logic or grammar, just keep writing. Write over your word count so you can edit down later. For example, if I need a 500-word article, I'll write 700-800 words. More than that and it gets tougher to edit down.
    3. The next day is edits. First, read over it and edit for flow & logic. Then go over it again and look for the spelling, grammar, punctuation, and little errors.
    The trick is to limit your time on each step. You can try using something like the Pomodoro technique. That doesn't work for me because the timer interrupts my flow. But I always keep track of what time I start a task and what time I end it, and I find that the act of writing times down helps me stay focused and work faster.

    How long does it take me to write something? It really depends on the topic & article requirements: do I have to do a lot of research & find reputable sources, or can I write off the top of my head? I always keep track of how long it takes me to write each article and make sure I'm meeting my minimum hourly rates for each client (though I charge per project, not hourly).

    Hope this helps :)
  3. Thanks Keri,

    I think I've pushed my rates in the short-term to their limits. I'm happy with my current rates, though obviously long term I'll work to increase them.

    That's a useful tip regarding doing each job in batches. When I'm in research mode it can be tricky to jump instantly into writing mode, so that would save me from wasting a lot of time.

    The first draft being really sloppy is something I've seen talked about a lot but I've never been able to get my head around it. I'm always worried that the quality of information won't be there, even after I've polished it up during the editing process. I think that's something I'll just have to experiment with and work at.

    I've had a go at the Pomodoro technique once or twice, with mixed results. It is great for forcing yourself to start, but like you said it interrupts my flow.
  4. I get what you mean about worrying about the quality of writing on the first draft. I've just had to force myself not to think about it, and just laugh at myself while I'm writing :) I just assume and accept that the first draft will be terrible. But actually, often when I go back to edit I'm surprised at the quality stuff in there. I just have to whittle down the excess.

    Well, everyone works differently so you have to find the method that works for you! Keep trying different methods, and keep track of how your speed improves. I just keep a notebook by my laptop and write down start & end times. You could keep track of word counts, too, and make it a sort of game trying to beat your high score of words per hour.
  5. I actually wrote a reply to this yesterday and then never clicked submit. Doh! :facepalm:

    This is not something I have tracked. The one thing I try and keep an eye on is how many words I write per day; however the time to produce articles can vary because I usually test plugins etc for articles. All of the testing etc would have to be included in any calculation I did to give me a true representation.

    KeriLynn makes a great suggestion to write in batches. I rarely write an article in order. I usually split each article into parts.

    For example, for a plugin review, I would first write the headings of two or three sections e.g. one for settings, one for examples, one for criticism etc. Then I test the plugin and write some notes to remind me of important things that need covered. Then I write the intro and then start writing the main sections.

    List posts are different. I'm writing a long plugin list for WPMU. I first wrote the introduction and overview at the end. Then I researched a long list of plugins. Then I inserted the list with images with a link to each plugin. Today, I will finish off the post by going through all of the plugins and writing descriptions for each one.

    It may seem that this is more time consuming to do this, however I find it suits me better. When writing the introduction, overview, and descriptions, I prefer to be in silence so that I can think. I like to do boring repetitive tasks, such as researching plugins and uploading images, while sitting in front of the television or listening to music. This makes a boring task bearable.

    Finally, I go through the whole article, proofread it and do more editing, and if necessary, do some proofreading and editing again.

    Another thing that I suggest doing is getting away from the computer. Try and exercise a few times a week and get away from the computer if you feel that you are slowing down.

    For example, last night I was working on that article and I could feel myself getting a little tired. So me and my girlfriend took a 30 minute walk up to a nearby farm to see a cool little shetland pony and feed him grass. When I returned, I felt refreshed, and proceeded to work for another four or five hours.

    Obviously, everyone has different routines and different lifestyles, therefore you need to try and find out your own strengths and weaknesses. I know that if I haven't had much sleep, I find writing difficult, so on days like that I try and do the boring tasks like uploading images etc, as they don't require much thought.
    KeriLynn Engel likes this.
  6. #6 Deesha, Aug 10, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 10, 2014
    There's one thing confusing about the first draft that directly affects one's speed. The title. Some people say that you should write it at the end as its very time consuming. Such advice is present on Hubspot and in a Hootsuite blog too.

    But I think that Brian Clark from Copyblogger makes a stronger argument here http://www.copyblogger.com/why-you-should-always-write-your-headline-first/ - on why the title must be framed before beginning the writing process.

    I follow this and it helps me write better. If you can churn out a proven title quickly, that should help you write the body quicker. As with a definitive title in place, there's no scope of wandering.

    Some people prefer writing the introduction later too. Saves time apparently. Doesn't work for me though.

    Editing while writing is another time killer. I can't stop doing this though.
  7. #7 Joe F, Aug 10, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2014
    Interesting post. I was in the same situation a while ago but couldn't manage to crack it.

    I find my posts go way too long and when I'm not getting paid per word (but per post) I end up 'losing' money from my equivalent hourly rate.

    If I am writing a review, which I do a lot of, I will use the same headings: intro, features, usage, pricing, support and documentation, conclusion - and add them to the document to being with so I know where I am going.

    I normally do a very rough title at the start to keep me on track - like 'how to write faster' but then when the article is done I make it more enticing such as '10 Tips to Write Faster and Earn More Money (you won't beleive number 6 it blew my mind)'.

    But it still takes me about 3-4 hours to write a post which is is OK for some clients and not good at all for others, depending on my rates. Cropping the images, formatting in WordPress, doing the tags, filling out the SEO fields, etc takes up a good portion of time too which sucks.

    I need to stop taking so long and going into too much detail but I feel like I really want to dig in and provide some useful information which a lot of reviews don't really do. But I have no idea what people actually read, and what generates the most click throughs to the product - long detailed posts or short snappy articles.

    Also, what Kevin said about taking a break it a good idea. When I am getting bogged down with the writing, rather than keep in grinding its best to stop and do something else for a while. You might lose some time but you will more than make up from it after taking a break then trying to swim against the current.

    So basically I don't have any proper advice but its something I struggle with too.
  8. Thanks for the tips everyone.

    I think this is something that will improve over time as my confidence grows and I find a more streamlined process.. I'll have to try taking more breaks to see if it increases my productivity.

    I agree that the tasks around the post, like cropping images, are a bit of a time consumer. I don't mind them as much as they require less focus so I can put some music on to unwind a little.
  9. Yes a lot of the work associated with completing a blog post is boring repetitive work, however it still needs to done. If you are being asked to do a lot of extra work and don't feel your current rate compensates you for it, you may want to try increasing your rates.
    KeriLynn Engel likes this.
  10. Definitely! This type of work (finding images, formatting, etc.) can take as much, if not more, time as actually writing the post. I always charge more if I'm expected to do these tasks, too. Sophie Lizard has a good post called "5 Blog Post Elements You Sure As Hell Deserve to Get Paid For" on BeAFreelanceBlogger about this.
  11. This is particularly true for list posts. If you are only writing short descriptions for each item, the majority of your time will be spent researching list items, cropping images, uploading images. In those situations, payment per word is not always ideal, particularly if your rate is not high enough.

    Charging per word is suitable in most situations as it usually is the best indication of how much time you spent on an article. And website owners are reluctant to pay by hour as they don't know what they are getting. That is why I charge per word, however there are times where you end up losing a little because all your time is spent doing other things; even though you are only paid for the number of words in the article.
  12. Write... Write.... Write... You will get better overtime!
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