Do you ever wonder how you could write more in less time? You could free up extra hours for friends and family, or paddleboarding, or roadtripping, or sitting on the porch reading. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Writing takes time. There are no two ways around that. You can do some planning in your head, and occasionally the brilliant headline or opening paragraph strikes when you least expect it, but, as writers, we eventually need to sit our butts in the chair and get to work.
The good news is, the more you write, the faster you get. You develop a sharpened sense of what publications and clients want and how you can best deliver it, and you also figure out how, when, and where you most efficiently do your best work. This comes naturally with time, but there are things that speed the process along. Here are nine of my favorite tips.
1. Get Up Early
Writing in the early hours is wonderful. The world isn’t awake yet, emails haven’t started pouring in, no one expects you to be available yet, and there’s a quiet that is just perfect for writing. I know, I know, some of you are night owls who don’t sit down to write until the sun has set, but for me, the early morning hours are by far my most productive.
2. Schedule Your Day Ahead of Time
Scheduling is essential to staying on track as a freelance writer. As your business grows, you’ll be juggling interviews, drafts, deadlines, invoices, pitches, emails, edits, and more. Creating a daily, weekly, and even monthly schedule helps you stay on top of all your tasks. On Sunday night, I lay out all of my to-dos for the week and schedule them in Google Calendar. I then update the calendar daily as new tasks come in or I need to move things around. Knowing what you’ll be working on ahead of time lets you jump right in instead of spending your precious, best time figuring out what needs to be done.
3. Outline / Draft / Write / Polish
This is the formula I use for every article and blog post I write. First, I outline it, then I do a loose draft of it, not worrying about filling in all the details, then I go back and fill in everything and tighten the piece up, then, I go over it a couple more times, polishing up any sentences that need it, checking the flow, and reviewing the overall feel. While it’s more steps than just trying to hammer it out in one sitting, this formula saves me time because I do each stage when I’m fresh, I’m able to modify it as I go along rather than getting to the end and finding that it doesn’t flow, and I can break any size article into manageable chunks. In the end, this makes me far more efficient.
4. Do Your Most Important Tasks First
When scheduling your day, figure out which tasks are the most important and do those first, while you’re fresh and focused. You can work small, easy-to-do tasks in around bigger to-dos, and take care of light, lower-priority tasks at the end of the day when your brain and body are winding down.
5. Take Breaks
It’s counterintuitive, but the harder and longer you work, the more breaks you should take. And by break, I mean stepping away from the computer—not opening up a new tab for noodling on Facebook. Go climb some steps, take a stroll around the block, get some coffee, chat with a friend or neighbor. I’m learning to juggle, so I like to practice my tricks. The idea is to give your mind and your body some rest and a different perspective so you come back to your writer’s chair refreshed and ready to get back to work.
6. Find a Time Management System that Works for You
The flip side of taking breaks is to have a time management system in place that keeps you focused on writing. I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique. The 25 minute work blocks are short enough to keep me coming back, and long enough that I get a good amount done when I stack a few of them together. Whatever time management technique you use, if it makes your more productive and focused, stick with it.
7. Minimize Distractions
How much time do you spend writing? I mean really writing, not getting pulled into a text conversation, or going five articles deep into the best places to get a burrito in Oakland, or stopping to check every Facebook notification. Turn all that stuff off and give yourself the gift of uninterrupted writing time. You might be surprised at how much you can get done.
8. Set a Quitting Time, and Stick to It
If you’re always working, and never turning off, you run the risk of burning out. Schedule your work, set a quitting time, and do your best to stick to it. You’ll get back to work the following day refreshed and ready to write rather than dragging a tired body and brain back to the writer’s chair for another round.
9. Still Your Mind
Whether you meditate, practice visualization, pray, or just take a break to quiet your thoughts, take some time throughout the day to still your mind. Like your body, your mind needs rest to do its best work. Practicing stilling your mind—letting go of thoughts, worries, to-dos—is also a great way to reduce the stress and anxiety that come with the freelance life.
These are some of the ways I’ve learned to get more writing done in less time. What can you add to the list? What are your favorite strategies?
Top photo: Feliciano Guimarães (CC-BY)