How to Write Faster
Guest Post from Rachel Cavanaugh
If you’re going to be a travel blogger, you need to be able to write fast—there’s a high volume of content that needs to get out the door and if you’re agonizing over every word, you’ll never be able to produce the quantity of writing you need to in order to be successful.
As someone who’s been writing professionally for more than 14 years, this is something I’ve struggled with often. Writing fast is hard. Most of us are perfectionists and it’s difficult to let go and not nitpick over every detail. But when you’re writing for a living, it’s essential.
I currently write about 2,000 to 3,000 words a day. That’s a lot, and if I insisted on making every sentence perfect, I’d never be able to get anything done. Over the years, I’ve had to learn a lot of tricks and tips to write faster and let go of that perfectionism.
Here are four of my favorite tips to write faster:
Forget the adjectives
During the first draft, your goal is to get your thoughts on paper. Nothing more, nothing less. This isn’t the round where you’re going to write the famous final sentence of “The Grapes of Wrath” or come up with a “New York Times” pull-quote for your Pulitzer story. This is just the part where you’re getting your thoughts on the page. If you pause every time you come to a word you can’t decide on, you’ll never get anything written. This is especially true when it comes to adjectives.
These flowery words are, in my opinion, the single-most common source of frustration and delays for writers. They’re unnecessary filler words that—while beautiful in the final copy—interfere with your workflow during the early stages and cause your train of thought to derail.
It usually happens like this: You’re midway through the paragraph when you come to a phrase like, “The ocean was blue.” Your reasonable, everyday voice begins to write “blue” but your hypercritical writer’s brain says, “No! Blue’ is a dull, overused word! I must say the ocean is ‘turquoise!’ Or ‘azure!’ Or ‘deep cobalt!’’” Suddenly, you’re at Thesaurus.com. Five minutes go by. You get an apple. You make a pot of coffee. Perhaps you do some laundry. It’s an hour later before you’re back to writing.
It’s fine to spend hours picking out the perfect adjective to describe the ocean in the final draft. But during round one, just get some words on the page.
Don’t get stuck on research
Similarly to how adjectives and word choices can cause delays, so can research. When you’re in the middle of writing and you’re really feeling the flow, it can be extremely distracting to have to pause to go look up numbers and statistics. Instead, if you come across a piece of information that you can’t pull off the top of your head, try using the word “BLANK.” There are many ways to express this. You can insert the letter “X.” You can try two quotation marks. The phrase “TK” also works. Whatever shorthand you adopt, don’t pause writing to go look the information up. This is simply your brain looking for an excuse to stop writing.
Keep in mind, too, that it’s not only numbers and hard facts where this comes up. Sometimes jargon can throw you off as well. Say, for example, that you’re using a metaphor about gardening and you realize you don’t know anything about the subject. This isn’t the time to go researching gardening nomenclature—you don’t need this information right now, I promise. It may be more fun to surf Wikipedia for orchid terminology, but that’s not going to help you write faster.
Build the beams first
Whether you’re writing a news article, blog post, short story, screenplay, or novel, I like to think of your finished writing like a house you’re building. The final version will feature all of the elegant marble countertops and and chic siding with art on the walls and furniture in the living room. However, in the first stages, it’s just a set of ugly beams. And as unsightly as these beams are, a house can’t support itself without them—and neither can your story.
In the case of your writing, the “beams” are all of the structural elements that hold it together. They are the boring words on which the pretty stuff hangs—the “this”s, “and”s, and “thes”s. The ideas you want to convey and the plot points you want to include. Attempting to refine the language before you have the underlying structure in place will slow you down and waste time that you’ll spend re-writing later.
Whenever I’m writing a first draft and I start to get stuck, I say to myself: “I’m just building the beams.” This may sound cheesy but it reminds me that, metaphorically speaking, I don’t need to do sand the cupboards or polish the floors right now—all I need to do is get some posts up. This helps me break out of the analysis paralysis and get something on the page. The ironic twist is that half of the time, I find that the stuff I write the first time turns out to be just fine on second read-through, too.
Give yourself permission to write badly
The beams metaphor is a great segway into my next and final point which is that if you’re ever going to write anything well, you have to first give yourself permission to write it poorly. This is hard for us writers. Whether we feel it consciously or not, most of us have the belief that our words should roll out like Steinbeck every time. But this simply isn’t how the writing process works. With very few exceptions, almost all great writing begins as terrible writing.
Back when I first started writing professionally, it would take me hours to construct a single sentence. I’d spend hours writing one paragraph, only to delete it afterward is a huff of self-criticism and doubt, declaring it “unprintable” in my mind. I was interning for a weekly print newspaper at the time and I always pushed things dangerously close to my deadlines, even on stories I’d had a week to write. During the final hours before we went to press, my editor would always come by my desk and say something along the lines of: “Quit being so precious and just write.”
It took me awhile to understand what he meant but I see now that he was telling me to let go of my ego and allow myself to write something that was less than perfect. I was too attached to my desire to be great and it was interfering with my ability to write. Now, whenever I find myself trapped in that cycle, I hear his voice in my head and I say to myself: “Quit being so precious.” And then I just write.
Learn More about Travel Writer, Rachel Cavanaugh
Portfolio Website: https://www.rachelsylvia.com
Bio: Rachel Cavanaugh is a travel writer. She has been in media and journalism for 14 years and is an accomplished freelance travel writer. She started her career as a print newspaper reporter. Today she is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer with a focus on outdoor sports and adventure destinations, particularly skiing/snowboarding, kiteboarding, kayaking, hiking, and road-tripping.
Rachel is a staff commerce writer for Bustle Digital Group which includes Bustle, Elite Daily, Mic, and Inverse as well as a freelance writer for various outlets including Men’s Journal, MSN, The Hollywood Reporter, 57 Hours, Matador Network, Digital Trends, Gear Junkie, and KimKim.
Blogging niche: Adventure travel, luxury travel, luxury adventure travel. Special focus on snowboarding, kitesurfing, outdoor recreation, road trips, and adrenaline sports.
Favorite Travel Writer: Bill Bryson
Favorite Travel Blog or Website: Wandering Wheatleys
Organizations I belong to (Travel Massive, NATJA, IFTAWA, etc): PPA (Professional Photographers of America)
Rachel was also my guest on episodes 149 and 150 of the podcast: 11 Keys To Long-term Success as a Freelance Travel Writer with Rachel Cavanaugh (Part 1) AND 11 Keys To Long-term Success as a Freelance Travel Writer with Rachel Cavanaugh (Part 1)
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