Willow Shire is an author who struggles with depression. His non-fiction focuses on depression and the writing life.
Writers make money by producing more words. Words are their product. As with any industry, we want to create more of our product and increase sales.
When I started my writing journey, I wondered, how many words do you have to write to be successful? I believe the answer is variable, but in researching that question, I came upon many ways to increase our product, to increase word count.
I’m a web developer by trade. Day in and out, I have typed thousands of lines of code on my computer, sometimes not looking up for hours on end. I can type fast and clients have been astonished to see how quickly the typing is during training sessions. This is a skill built because of my profession. Most writers use keyboards nowadays which also leads to accelerated word counts.
But what if you’re a beginner and don’t have that word count where you want it? Or what if you’re a writer and just want to produce more words?
I came across three very easy steps as I listened to podcasts. The Write Now podcast by Sarah Werner has some excellent interviews all writers should check out.
I purchased several books and read blog entries, all in search of that secret sauce existing writers use to increase their word count. One such book was Write Better, Faster by Monica Leonelle. The title claims to “triple your writing speed and write more every day.” My results were exactly that following her process and building upon my own.
Step 1. Start Tracking Your Writing
First, I started tracking. This is the most important thing you can do for everything you do. For writing, authors tend to treat it as just writing. What they forget is that words are their product, and writing is their business. To be successful, you have to know the numbers; expenses, leads brought in by different promotions, sales counts, etc. As they say on Shark Tank, “You have to know your numbers!”
Writing is a business, so if you aren’t tracking, start. It’s easy to do. You can set up a spreadsheet using Google, Microsoft Excel, Open Office, or another program. Create a few columns to track:
- Start time
- End time
- Target word count
- Actual word count
My spreadsheet goes a bit farther because I’m a data nut. I included functions to average the rate of words per hour. My sheets are separated by writing topic, so when I wrote Fury, I tracked those data points on that sheet and had a running total to know the story‘s total word count, which I found easier than clicking on the project statistics in Scrivener when I remembered.
You just need the five items above. In Write Better, Faster, Monica discusses adding daily notes, too. I didn’t go that far. My routine is pretty straight forward, so daily notes weren’t a necessity.
Step 2. Plan Your Writing
Many authors fly by the seat of their pants. We call them pantsers. They don’t plan anything or plan very little. When they put a pen to paper, keys to keyboard, they end up spilling everything onto the page. I like to call it brain vomit. It doesn’t work for me. If it works for you, more power to you.
I am a plotter, a planner. I plot my stories and find the holes before I start writing. When I write, I write one draft without having to do major edits. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to work through grammar, punctuation, some sentence rewrites, etc. It means I do one draft and everything else is minor.
Sure, the dreaming part is fun and freeing, but the organizing and writing down of plotlines and themes is tough business. It’s much easier to forget all that and just sit down and start writing and see what happens. But if you check what most writers who don’t outline have to say about their work habits, you will discover that they end up doing several drafts of a book and any number of rewrites afterwards.
— Terry Brooks, Sometimes the Magic Works
Terry's not talking about writing speed. He’s talking about having a fully formed story, themes, and ideas that await being recorded in words. I think of it as a movie. Once I see the complete movie without significant plot holes, I can hit play and record it in words.
This is extremely helpful with writing speed. I tried to write without a plot, and my speed dramatically decreased. My method is to plan everything; not necessarily down to dialogue.
For fiction, I write a scene outline with the key points, characters, and any specific dialogue that has to happen to move the story forward. When I hit play on the movie, I let the characters do the work while fulfilling the points on the outline. Sometimes it changes. Sometimes the characters give me surprises. It’s still creative and fluid as I type. What’s different is my writing speed easily increases by a multiple of four. If I wrote 500 words without planning, I can write 2000 with planning.
Nonfiction is different. When we write nonfiction, our brain doesn’t have to work as hard to create a world. We already know what we’re writing. You should still plan. My nonfiction articles and other items hit high writing speeds.
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At the time I wrote this sentence, Scrivener was at 960 words and I was at 26 minutes. That’s about 2,215 words per hour or 1,476 words per 40 minutes. I write in stints of 40 minutes, so I like to watch that number the most. During this time, I had to find the Terry Brooks quote, transfer it, and do a couple of other quick lookups. If I had planned better that speed would be higher.
And, this is a speed by typing. Not by doing step three.
Track your data. Add in when you planned out your writing topic and did not. I’m sure you’ll notice the difference. It will also save you time and painful rewrites later on.
Step 3. Use Dictation Software to Speed Up Your Writing
Dictation software is a tool that translates your voice into words. Some of you might think of the “talk to text” feature on your phone. That’s a smaller version of dictation software.
There are many options out there. Most phones can do it on their own. Dragon is likely the most popular, potentially the most powerful for an individual. Doctors use it. Law enforcement uses it. Lawyers . . . the list goes on.
When you write, you can easily double or triple your speed using a tool like this. It records your voice and translates it into words.
I saw almost triple speeds when I was writing.
However, I ran into a problem I think most writers won’t experience. My brain, chaotic as it is, has trouble translating words into verbal words. It’s one reason I struggle with writing confidence. When I speak, I can see words, clear as day in big white font on a black background, hanging in the back of my mind. Those words refuse to come out of my mouth. As a kid, I also had a speech impediment, and still hear it from time to time.
As successful as Dragon was for me, I’ve slowed my use. My verbal brain just doesn’t like to sync with the writing side. I also found that I would overload my computer buffer, which resulted in processing issues with sentences getting stripped or translated wrong.
I was successful with Dragon, and I want writers to know that. It just wasn’t for me. I prefer typing. Then again, I’ve been typing code every day for 15+ years. Give Dragon a try. If you have a good verbal brain, you’ll do fine. It takes time to train, and that can be frustrating. It took about two weeks for me to train Dragon to my voice. Once it recognizes you, your accent, your diction, you’ll see your speeds soar.
You can also use phone dictation and other programs. My experience is that Dragon is the most effective tool leading to fewer translation issues. Either way, try dictation, track your results, and see if it works for you.
There’s More to Writing Faster
There is more you can do to write faster. These were the three most beneficial techniques I found. If you’re interested in others, give Monica’s book a try (see the link at the beginning of this article). She goes into much more detail and even includes her own personal tracking journal.
Ask other writers what they do, too. Read blogs, listen to podcasts, and learn. Writing is a business. Words are our product.
To quote Monica’s title, “Write Better, Faster."
At the end of writing this article, I typed over 1500 words (pre-edits) in 40 minutes. That’s 2,250 per hour, with breaks to grab my research because I hadn’t planned. If you aren’t hitting speeds of 2,200 words per hour, give those steps a try. The proof is in the pudding.
© 2019 Willow Shire
Gauthier Buttez from Bordeaux on April 16, 2019:
Thanks for this article.
Willow Shire (author) from Central Pennsylvania, USA on February 18, 2019:
You're welcome! I don't remember the last time I took a typing test either. I vary depending on the content I'm typing. Non-fiction can be super fast, fiction gets slower, coding is all over the place. As long as the work gets done, right? I had a friend who programmed using the hunt and peck method for years which is probably only 20wpm or less, but he always completed his projects on time.
PoetikalyAnointed on February 18, 2019:
Thanks for these helpful tips. I can't tell you the last time that I took a typing test lol. Last time I checked, I was typing around 45wpm-50wpm. I know that's pretty slow these days but hey. I'm a work in progress...