Does your boss sing the “we-have-to-do-more-with-less” blues? I’m not particularly sympathetic to that song, but I am an expert on writing quickly.
Whether you need to make your boss happier or just to satisfy yourself, here are five sneaky tricks PR pros and journalists can use to help double their writing speed:
1. Pretend you’re about to go on vacation.
Have you ever noticed how wildly efficient you can become just before leaving on holiday? Your tiresome press release? Shazam! You’ve written it. Your inbox that’s been stacked five-inches high with reports, letters and memos? You blast through it in an hour and a half.
Part of this has to do with Parkinson’s Law—work expands to fill the available time. When you’re going on holiday, you have less time. But you can evade Parkinson’s Law by imagining that you have a plane to climb on. Most of us usually try to do our “best,” little realizing that we’re far better off writing a first draft as quickly as possible and then editing it later. That press release? Give yourself a 20-minute deadline for a rough draft. Later, allow another 40 minutes to edit it. If you were going on vacation, you’d be exactly this ruthless. Make a game of it.
2. Write earlier in the day.
If you have difficulty writing, it’s going to take some willpower for you to finish your work. Many of us imagine willpower to be a simple matter of gritting our teeth and doing the dreaded job. Instead, neuroscientists now know that willpower is a natural resource that becomes depleted every day. You start off with more of it in the morning and with every decision you make—whether it’s saying no to the donut at coffee hour and arguing with a colleague about where to have lunch—you run out of it. Get your writing done early, before your will-o-meter drops to zero.
3. Work in pomodoros.
Many of us—particularly PR professionals—allow ourselves to be interrupted almost constantly. If it’s not the phone, it’s email. And if it’s not email, it’s Twitter. Turn that stuff OFF, at least temporarily, while you’re writing. This is the suggestion of Italian inventor Francesco Cirillo who calls his technique the pomodoro (which is Italian for the word “tomato.”) So many of my clients have doubled their writing speed simply by using pomodoros, which require you to work in 25-minute bursts with no interruptions.
When clients tell me they can’t possibly miss breaking news or an important client call, I reassure them that responding after a mere 25-minute “delay” is not a deal-breaker for most clients. (And if this still bothers you, then ask your boss or assistant to text you on your cell if something truly urgent comes up.)
4. Stop editing while you write.
Most writers have an excellent first sentence. This is because they reflexively edit it over and over again. You know what I mean. You write a sentence, then you edit it. You write sentence #2 and then edit that one and the first one all over again. You write sentence #3, but don’t give up! Of course you need to review sentences #2 and 1 yet again. Put up your hand if this describes you. My system, which I’ve taught to thousands of writers over the last 10 years, advises that you write a rough draft quickly, without looking at it. Then, you take a break (I call this incubation.) Then, and only then, you edit it. If you’re accustomed to editing while you write—which I describe as similar to clearing the table while you’re still eating dinner—it will be a tough habit to break. But it’s worth it. I know because I did it myself. Here are seven tips that will help.
5. Create a mindmap.
Many of us were brainwashed in high school to produce outlines. I’ve always believed this is a waste of time. Instead, I suggest mindmapping, which is also known as clustering. This fantastic technique wakes up the creative part of your brain and allows you to write faster and much more easily. I also offer a free booklet on the subject.
I used to be a painfully slow writer, even when I worked as a senior editor at a major metropolitan daily newspaper. But when I became self-employed I spent days learning techniques like the ones I’ve described above and I not only doubled my writing speed—I quadrupled it. You can do it, too. It just takes some planning and the tiniest bit of effort. Don’t waste your time!
Have other suggestions for writing faster, journos and PR pros? Share in the comments below.
Daphne Gray-Grant is a former daily newspaper editor, writing and editing coach, and author of the popular book “8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better.” Via her website, she offers the newsletter “Power Writing.” It’s weekly, brief and free. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists by searching their bios, tweets and articles, and pitch them to get more press.