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Writing is an art, but it’s also a necessity. Even people that don’t consider themselves to be creative with the written word, often find themselves tasked in their jobs with having to write something. This might be a business proposal, an employee evaluation, or anything else. The better you write, the more you’ll get noticed as an effective communicator. That’s critical in almost any line of work.
If you’re a freelancer and your work involves writing, there is always a tug-of-war between effective communication and time. The more effective your writing, the more likely your clients will fall in love with you. However, the longer it takes you to write that amazing article, the less money you make because you’re writing fewer articles. There’s always that tightrope act between quality and volume. Higher volume equals more pay. Higher quality does not always immediately translate into higher pay.
Except, in the end it does. In the end, a high quality piece gets noticed. It gets the bigger clients interested in you as an editor or as a permanent member of the writing staff. High quality writing can transform you from a freelancer begging for your next gig, into a freelancer with a nearly guaranteed paycheck every month.
So, how do you strike that balance? How do you write things at work without wasting the entire workday doing it? How do you pump out even more articles as a freelancer, without sacrificing quality? In this article, I’m going to draw from 7 years of paid freelance writing work, and 13 years of professional engineering technical writing experience, to answer those questions.
Writing Fast Doesn’t Have to Hurt Creativity
When I first broke into freelancing almost a decade ago, it was mostly as a hobby. It wasn’t really intended to serve as an actual income until my wife quit her job, and the onus was on me to be the sole breadwinner. So, I started searching for paid writing. At the start, I would do anything for a dime, including pumping out a hundred articles in just a few days – bulk writing for $1 to $5 per article.
Those were trying times. In principle, I couldn’t give up on the quality of my writing, but I needed to increase my volume to breakneck speed. I learned a lot of tricks do do that – and those tricks served me well as I evolved as a freelancer. These days, I can produce three or four times more articles than most other writers in the same amount of time. Not only that, they are usually far more detailed articles as well. I’m not trying to brag – these are simply the things that clients have told me. Now, I’m going to pass along those techniques to you.
Typing Speed is The Key
Good writer or bad, if you’re still chicken-pecking your articles, you’re not going to be able to perform very well as a writer. These days, the keyboard is as much the tool of your craft as the sword was to a medieval knight, or the piano is to a pianist. You have to master your skill with that tool if you’re going to be able to perform at a professional level and at productive speeds.
You can always recognize an expert typist by the position of their fingers, hovering over the center of the keyboard with the left index finger over the “F” key, and the right index finger over the “J” key.
This is the typist starting point. It’s the starting line of the race that the expert typist will always win. If you’re lucky, you’ll be a natural at this. You’ll reach blurring typing speeds that no one will believe. But, to get there, you need to first learn how to type and second, train yourself to do it insanely fast.
I was lucky enough to receive excellent typing training in high school. Saikat covered 8 of the best free online tools that will teach you how to touch type, and help you practice doing it faster. My favorite resource is definitely TIPP10, which Saikat also covered.
I highly recommend, before doing anything else in this article, that you spend a few weeks to a month using one or several of these tutorial resources to learn touch-typing, and practice it daily until you can hit typing speeds over 60 words per minute with as few errors as possible. It takes a lot of focus, and there’s no way around it – you only get there through hours of practice. So do this first. Then, come back and we can talk about maintaining creativity while increasing speed, in the next section of this article.
Write Fast but Also Write Well
You’ll find a lot of articles online these days about how to churn out articles in record time. Look, we all know what those articles look like. Just search Google for some popular keyword, and you can find a whole bunch of horrid websites that have hired someone that can’t write, to churn out 100 articles for peanuts. I don’t care how fast you can pump out an article – if the article is horrible, I’m not buying it.
Improve Reading Comprehension
If you’re writing about anything that you have to research, then your reading comprehension is going to be critical. You need to read expert information about what you want to write about, or read multiple news stories about news you want to write about, and then type that information in your own voice, and with your own style. How well can you read something and then repeat it back correctly?
The better you can do this, the faster you’ll be able to write an article or a document at work based on the research you’ve performed. Practice this skill by reading a news article in the newspaper from start to finish. Then, put down the paper and repeat back the story as best you can. Extra points for remembering things like names, places, and dates. This is a brain-building skill that actually doesn’t take too long to develop if you practice it daily. Try it every morning when you’re reading your favorite news blog. The fewer times you have to reference your research, the faster you’ll be able to write.
Create an Outline
Once you’ve done your research and you’re ready to write – lay out an outline to cover all points you want to touch on. If this is an employee review at work for example, then create 4 or 5 section headers that touch on key characteristics about the person that you want to discuss. If this is a how-to article you’re writing for a blog, then create headers that touch on each step of the process. If it’s a review of software for a tech blog, then create a header for each aspect of the software you want to talk about.
I previously explained here at MakeUseOf, how to edit the code for your WordPress content template to do this automatically for you. This auto-template system alone cut my blog-entry writing time by 25% at least. Not having to fuss around with formatting every time you write an article is very nice. All you have to do is replace the headers with the outline you created for your article, and you’re good to go.
Take Screenshots Based on Article Type
Taking screenshots or finding images for an article can sometimes take as long or longer than writing the article itself. This is especially true if it’s a how-to article or a review of software or hardware.
Go through the actual process that you’re going to write about before writing the article. If it’s a “how-to” article, go through the process and take screenshots or photos of each step. The images themselves will serve as a reminder for the step details when it comes around to writing.
One exception to this is if you’re writing an editorial or opinion-piece that doesn’t really require pictures for each section – in that case you can wait until you’re writing the article to find pictures that apply to the topic at hand.
Writing and Editing are the Last Steps
I always get a kick out of some bloggers that say the best way to write quickly is to just barge into the process like a bull in a china shop, and then pretty it up later. That isn’t writing, it’s shoe-shop, factory production mentality. That doesn’t lead to quality, it leads to worthless articles that offer no value whatsoever. No, planning is everything. Just like how Saikat suggested in his article about how to be more productive, you should plan out your next day’s work the night before, you should also plan out your writing before you actually write. Failing to do so will result in a disjointed article or document with little or no logical flow to it.
If you’ve followed the steps above, then you now have an outline created, you have your pictures in place and all that’s left is the content. You’ve trained yourself to type as quickly as possible. You’ve done all your research. Now it’s time for the magical part of the process – the writing.
No – don’t write mindlessly, letting thoughts just come bursting out like sprays of random paint on a canvas. This isn’t an abstract painting you’re trying to create. It should be an article that flows, that makes sense, and that a reader can easily understand. Say sentences you write out loud and ask yourself – does this sound right? Correct grammar is great, but it doesn’t make a good writer. Does it sound right? If it doesn’t, then rewrite it!
Use those headers and pictures as mental triggers to remind you what you wanted to say next. This will speed along the writing process more than you could possibly imagine. This is where all that planning really pays off. Keep spell check turned on when you write, and fix mistakes immediately. The better you get it the first time through, the less editing you’ll need to do later (if any).
Be methodical with your writing. Don’t dwell on the small details that don’t matter to the core topic of your article, but do thoroughly cover the details that matter – don’t just skip things for the sake of saving time. You’ll end up saving much more time in the end, because your editor or your boss won’t have to kick it back to you to edit and do it right. Remember, the key is speed with quality, not just speed.
Finally, you’re almost done with your masterpiece. If you’ve fixed spellings and grammar along the way, editing will take from 5-10 minutes max. Just read through your article aloud (or “out loud” in your head if you can do that). Ask yourself, is it clear and conversational? Would you talk like that to a friend sitting next to you? Does it flow and does it sound good? Once you’ve read it through and polished it off – you’re done. Submit that article. Email that employee evaluation. Send over that documentation to your boss. People will not only be impressed with how quickly you got it done, but also by the fact that your writing is second-to-none.
Now, that’s something to be proud of.
What’s your writing process? How do you save time? Do you edit at all while you write, or only after? Share your own tips and tricks from your writing process in the comments section below, and let’s help each other write better and faster!
Image Credits: close up a pen and write via Shutterstock, Man Reading from a Tablet via Shutterstock, Hard Working Office Worker via Shutterstock, Film Camera Collage via Shutterstock, Man Reading Newspaper via Shutterstock, Hands Typing on the Keyboard via Shutterstock