One of the biggest problems that I hear writers struggle with is not having time to write. This is particularly true for those of you who are also business owners and who are busy running your businesses, creating content, staying active on social media, and a dozen other things. When you’re trying to write a book but you’re crunched for time, it helps to be able to get more written in the time you do have. You need to speed up your writing.
So, to help you get more words onto the page when you sit down to write, I’m sharing five tips to help you speed up your writing. (Several of these tips definitely apply to fiction writers, but I’m primarily aiming the tips at nonfiction writers.) If you find yourself saying, “But I don’t have time to write” or, “I can’t seem to finish my book because I’m too busy,” this episode is for you! I hope that at least one or two of these tips will help you finally finish your book and become an author.
When I’m ghostwriting a book for a client, we generally start by having a conversation. I sit down and ask them a series of questions to get the information I need to write their book. Sometimes we’re on a call, other times we’ll just send short Voxer clips back and forth. Either way, they get to talk through their ideas and I get the content I need for the writing I need to do.
Often, I’m not directly transcribing what they client says. Or, if I’m working from a transcript, I’m not taking it verbatim. Instead, I look for the important information in what they’ve just explained to me. What are the major points that they’re trying to make? How are they explaining those points? What examples have they used? I take a holistic view of what I’ve learned from my client talking out their content and I turn it into the manuscript of their book.
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I recently worked with a client to ghostwrite her book. We were incorporating parts of her backstory that we thought would help inspire her readers to make a positive change in their lives. She told me the stories, and I helped her pick out the ones that would resonate the best, and I helped word them so that readers would really identify with where she was coming from. Ultimately, the stories were framed so that readers learned a lesson to apply to their own lives. She had the raw content, but I put it together in a way that made sense for her book and her reader.
You can do the same thing with your book. Sometimes, it’s easier to talk things out than it is to type them out. It’s important to note that I’m not necessarily talking about dictating the content of your book here. (Although if that’s what you want to do, that’s totally cool!) What I mean by “talk it out” is to work out your ideas verbally. Then, you can take the important points you’ve made and write them up nicely. When you know those points and what you want to say, the whole process of writing becomes a lot easier.
How do you get started? First, pick a topic that you’re going to include in your book. (Having an outline is really helpful for this. Check out Episode 56 of the Blogger to Author Podcast—How to Start to Outline Your Nonfiction Book.) Then, sit down and record yourself talking through any ideas that come to mind on the topic. At this point, don’t try to write your ideas down, which will only make the process slower. Just talk through everything.
Then, when you’re done, start to write down the ideas that you just talked through. Go back and listen to what you recorded if you can’t remember everything you talked about. (That’s why I had you record it!) You can even get your audio or video transcribed. (I love Temi for this.) This will basically be a big brain dump, where you write down everything and anything in no particular order.
Once you’re done writing down your ideas, start to organize them. Which ideas do you need to present to your reader first? What comes first chronologically, or what do they need to believe first before they’re ready to move onto the next step? Once you’re organized, you can start writing. And, having those detailed notes will help speed up the process, and you may even use a lot of what you’ve said directly in your book.
One theme you’ll hear from me over and over again is repurpose, repurpose, repurpose. I talk about repurposing your content a lot because it’s such an easy way to quickly put together large chunks of your book. If you’re a busy business owner or blogger, you don’t have a ton of time to write your book AND do ‘all the things’ for your business. That means it’s time to work smarter, not harder. You should see if there’s any content you’ve already created that you can reuse.
So, ask yourself, “What can I repurpose to get started?” Don’t just look at blog posts—see what you’ve posted on social media or sent to your email list. Do you have any informational videos that you can transcribe? Can you take content from a course and reuse it in your book? There are lots of places to look for old content that can help you write your first draft.
Another great place to look for ideas is old notes, if you keep them. For example, whenever I have a business-related idea, I write it down either in my business notebook if I’m at home, or I make a note in Google Keep when I’m on the go. Then, when it’s time to pull all of those thoughts together, I search through my old notes, put them together, and organize them in a Google Doc. (Side note: you could definitely do the same thing with Microsoft Word, but I like using the Google Docs because I can access them from anywhere. It makes it really convenient to add to that document if an idea comes up when I’m out and about.)
How do you go about stealing from your own writing? First, make a list of all of the different types of content you’ve created. Again, those may include:
Next, grab your book outline and go through your content. Use a search feature whenever possible. For example, if you’re a WordPress user, go into the Posts area of your website’s backend and search for relevant words or phrases in your blog content. You can search your own posts on your Facebook page, too. Use your computer’s search feature to look though any files you might have on your computer. Make this process as easy on yourself as possible.
Once you’ve discovered all of your relevant content, begin to copy and paste it into the document (or documents) for your book. If you’re using a word processor like Google Docs or Microsoft Word, it’s often more manageable to begin with each chapter in a separate document. I personally use a piece of software called Scrivener to make it easier to keep and organize large manuscripts. (They make it very easy to drag and drop different pieces of text, which makes reorganizing your book a breeze, if necessary.) Bottom line: start to collect your material in one place.
After you’re done copying and pasting, compare what you have to what’s in your outline. Find out what you still need to write to complete your first draft of your book manuscript. That may mean adding more information to the content you’ve repurposed. It may simply mean writing other parts of a chapter or section.
You’re going to want to go back and edit that content, either before you start writing the other sections or as you’re self-editing your manuscript as a whole. It’s possible, but highly unlikely, that you said everything perfectly the first time. Don’t consider your borrowed content “finished.” Instead, you’re simply using it to get more words on the page faster and to help speed up the writing process.
Are you unsure what you should include in your book, or are you feeling stuck because you don’t know what you want to say about a particular idea or topic? Go back to your audience. Your audience is full of people just like your ideal reader—people you’re writing your book for. Why not get their input and make sure that you’re covering every single thing they need to know about that idea or topic?
Here’s an example: I had a client who’s a Registered Dietitian. Her book was directly aimed at her niche audience and she was designing that book to directly solve some pain points her audience was having. She knew the general ideas she wanted to cover in the book. But, she was smart and knew that she should check back with her audience and find out what they wanted to hear. It’s a good thing she did—they wanted her to include an FAQ section, which she hasn’t originally intended to include. By checking with her followers and learning about their needs and expectations, it made her book even more valuable to them…which means she could charge more for her book when it launched.
There are a couple of ways to talk to your audience and get them to help you with your book. The first is a higher-level look at your content. Find out what topics they want you to address in the book. Are there any questions they would expect to be answered? What kind of content do they want to see more of—examples, journal pages, or detailed quizzes, for example? What is going to help them understand the content in your book? Use that feedback to speed up your writing.
You can take a similar approach for each topic you intend to cover in your book. Let’s look back at the example of my RD client. She knew that she wanted to cover the general nutrition principles that her readers should follow to get the results they’re looking for. But, she could go back to her audience and ask them what questions they have about protein in their diet or supplements they should take. By carefully listening to her audience, she could make her book even better by making sure she answers all of those questions in her book.
Also don’t be afraid to look for beta readers in your audience. Yes, it’s great to get colleagues to read through your book and give you a nice quote for the back cover of your book and for advertising. But, they’re probably not the ideal reader your book is aimed at. If you give a polished draft to a couple of super fans who are your book’s ideal readers, they can give you some amazing feedback. So, consider going to your audience for feedback at that point as well.
A lot of the time, we get bogged down because we think our writing needs to be perfect. We get all wrapped up in our heads, letting our fears that our books aren’t “good enough” take over. This fear can be absolutely paralyzing. Instead of making progress on your book and actually writing it, you get stuck on one small sentence or paragraph and you can’t move forward. But, letting go of perfection can help you speed up your writing.
Nobody is perfect. Your book won’t be perfect, even if you hire all the best editors in the world. When it comes to books, perfection is completely subjective. And, ask yourself, what does it mean to have a perfect book? Is it based on something tangible, or is it based on other peoples’ judgement, or other things you can’t control?
I encourage you to really work to shift your mindset away from trying to make your book perfect. If you don’t settle for less than perfect, you’ll never finish and publish your book. That means your book won’t be out there in the world to help your people. And, it won’t be out there in the world to help you grow your business.
Instead, find a balance. I’m not encouraging you to publish your first draft, including several sections that you wrote when you were half-asleep at 5 AM. Instead, I think you should reevaluate what “good enough” means for you. Here’s my suggestion: your “good enough” should be a book that’s easy to read, clearly understood, and that helps your reader achieve a desired outcome. It really can be as simple as that.
For those of you who are worried about producing a less-than-perfect book, let me remind you of a couple of things. You can go back and edit later. This is especially true when you’re writing your first draft, so don’t get stuck trying to make your writing perfect when you should just be getting words out on the page. Perfection is the enemy of you finishing the first draft of your book.
And, you should know that if you’re self-publishing, you can publish a second edition of your book quite easily. This is particularly true if you’re using a print-on-demand service to print your book. You don’t have the pressure of having to sell through hundreds or thousands of books before you can publish your revised edition. Most of you won’t need to make a second edition (unless you want to), but I think having the ability to make one puts a lot of perfectionists’ minds at ease. Your book doesn’t have to be set in stone.
TIP #5: USE THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE
Unless you’re some sort of amazing, monk-like creature, it’s hard to focus on one thing for really long periods of time. I know when I sit down to write, it’s not like I can write for hours on end. I need a break. My brain needs a break. Sometimes it needs more food or caffeine. And, sometimes it just needs to turn off for a little bit before it will turn back on. That’s why the Pomodoro Technique has been so helpful to me. That’s why my fifth tip to speed up your writing is to implement this method.
If you haven’t used the Pomodoro Technique for work before, it can be a big game changer. Basically, you work for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. Or, if you’re really on a roll, you can work for 50 minutes, then take a 10-minute break. It helps you break your work down into manageable chunks. And, it gives your brain the space it needs to rest and regain a little bit of its creativity.
You may have found yourself doing this reflexively. You work hard on a project for a while, but your brain just stops working at some point. So, you get up, maybe grab a snack or walk around a little bit. When you come back, you feel more refreshed and you’re ready to get back at it. The Pomodoro Technique is basically a structured way to take these breaks, based on the amount of time that our brains are naturally able to focus on a task.
I use the Pomodoro Technique all the time when I’m writing, especially when I’m writing for a client. In those cases, I have a deadline that I have to meet and I know I need to work efficiently. So, I’ll set a timer for 25 minutes and get writing. When the alarm goes off, if I’m struggling to come up with more words, I’ll take a five-minute break. If I’m really in the flow of writing, I’ll set my alarm for another 25 minutes and keep going, then take a 10-minute break. Either way, the Pomodoro Technique really helps me work more efficiently. I hope it will help you, too!
So, there you have them: five great tips to speed up your writing. Now that you’ve heard them, I want you to try them! Take a minute to look at your calendar and schedule in some time to work on your book (or other writing, if that’s what you’re up to). Then, choose just one of these tips to incorporate during that writing session. Next week, try another tip, and so on. You’ll probably find that one or two of these tips work better for you than others. That’s great! Just incorporate those tips into your regular writing habit and you’ll get more words on the page every time you sit down to write.
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