How To Write Faster Than a Superhero

iStock_000002549448XSmallConfession: I’m a fan of the superhero The Flash.

If you’re at all familiar with comic book lore, you know that this is the guy who runs super, super fast. Why am I a fan? There’s something about being able to go “zoom” and you’re “there” — in seconds — that somehow appeals to me.

Yet, despite his talent for sprinting faster than a Hennessey Venom, I’m fairly certain that The Flash can’t write any speedier than the rest of us.

In fact, he would probably appreciate getting some practical tips on writing faster, more easily, and with a lot less stress.

So, with that in mind, here are some strategies that have helped boost my writing productivity. Some of these may work for you, even if you’re not a superhero.

1. Create a “tent pole” outline

Forget about the detailed, paragraph-by-paragraph outline your grade eight teacher taught you to create. In my experience, that just makes the writing process longer. Instead, simply make a list of points you want to make in roughly the order you want to make them in. These are your “tent poles”.

Trust me. They’ll make the actual writing a lot easier.

2. Write and polish your opening first

I spend a lot of time crafting the headline and opening few sentences. Once I have those in place, I find that the rest of the article, web page, sales letter, or whatever it is I’m writing, comes together quickly.

Writing and polishing your opening is like pulling the starter cord on a lawnmower. It revs things up and gets things moving. Just having that finished opening in place creates a momentum that makes writing the rest of the piece much faster.

3. Write a crap draft

After writing and polishing your opening, write the rest of the piece as fast as you can — without a care in the world as to how it sounds. In fact, expect your first draft to be awful and, in some areas, nonsensical.

As you’re writing, don’t judge. Don’t edit. Don’t go back and fix anything. Just keep moving forward. If you can’t think of the right word or phrase, insert a bad one. If you can’t dream up a decent metaphor or an example, put [example here] or [metaphor here] and then move on.

Yes, some of what your write will be a useless mess. However, some of it will also be great. The key is to let your ideas flow freely until you have a rough draft in place. Once that’s done, the pressure’s off.

4. Try writing in bullets

My friend, Jim, was struggling to write a sales page for a new program he was launching. He was getting nowhere. So I suggested he simply create a bullet list of what he wanted to say and in roughly the order he wanted to say it in.

Once he did that, he was able to quickly turn those bullets into finished copy. The bullets were essentially a rough draft in disguise.

I know a lot of people who write their rough drafts as bullets. Bullets are less intimidating than crafting sentences and paragraphs, and are quick to write. I even know someone who writes her rough drafts in PowerPoint. Hey, whatever works!

5. Try the Q&A technique

Here’s another method for getting your rough draft done. Turn your writing project into a list of questions – and then answer them.

Say, for example, you’re writing your website ABOUT page. The questions you might want to address are:

  • What do you do?
  • What makes you different?
  • What are your credentials?
  • Why do you love what you do?
  • What do clients say they like most about working with you?

You simply answer those questions and, voila, you have a rough draft. Later, you can turn those Q&As into more traditional copy. Or, leave it as a Q&A.

6. Incubate

There are few things more frustrating than getting stuck when trying to write something. You bang your head on the desk trying to dream up a decent headline, but all you get is a headache. Or a particular paragraph won’t come together, no matter how long you hack away at it.

When that happens, stop. Set the writing aside for a few minutes or, if possible, an hour or two. Then go back to it. When you do, I can almost guarantee the right words will suddenly come to you.

Writing productivity experts call this incubation. I’m not sure why it works. I’m just glad it does.

7. Silence your inner editor

You write a sentence. Something tells you it’s not quite right. You go back and change it. You start the next sentence. Then you delete both of them and start again. And on it goes.

Writing like that is like driving in stop and go traffic. It’s slow and agonizing.

To write quickly, you have to turn off your inner editor, at least until your first rough draft in done. Then you can turn that editor loose, and let him or her fix, revise and polish to perfection.

So those are seven ideas for writing more quickly and with less stress. If you have any additional tips on cranking out copy faster than a superhero, please let me know. I’ll share this with my friend The Flash.

37 Comments

  1. Very good advice! I struggled for years with my two biggest demons – getting started and editing with one hand while I write with the other. So frustrating. The tent pole outline and bullets are a quick and easy way to get going. And while it may take some persuading to convince your inner editor to go sit in the next room while you write, it’s worth it. I’m now proud of my crap drafts.

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    • I sometimes use the bullets technique. There’s something about bullets that seem temporary and non-committal. The inner editors doesn’t seem to intrude as much when I write them.

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  2. These are spot-on, Steve,thanks! I admit I chuckled at “crap draft”! Good name for it.

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    • Don’t you just hate auto-correction when replying on a phone? Can’t even get my own name right. Must have been the “crap draft”!

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      • I have a love-hate relationship with auto-correct. I turn it off, then realize I’m making all these typos.

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  3. Question unrelated to this informative article. I briefly saw a sales letter on Facebook concerning a niche in the b to b market. It was a sales letter detailing a new program you may offer about lead generation campaigns for businesses. I couldn’t find it on AWAI website. Is this opportunity still for sale? I’d like to investigate it further. Thanks.
    James Moffett.

    Reply
    • Hi James. I think it’s the program on becoming a “lead generation copywriting specialist”. Great niche. See if you can find it here: http://www.awaionline.com/b2b . If you can’t find it, contact me.

      Reply
  4. Great article. I love writing freely and just let all the words flow on the paper. I will try your techniques.

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    • Writing freely is the key. Sounds like that comes easy for you. For me, I have to keep reminding myself, “Just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t go back and edit.”

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  5. Useful article, and timely!

    Thanks Steve.

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  6. Thanks Steve! This is EXACTLY what holds me back – speed. And then I get discouraged that my business is not to the level I want it to be. I will definitely add this to my reminder wall next to my desk!

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    • Janet, one of the great things about being self-employed it that the more productive you get, the more money you make. I find that comforting!

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  7. Thanks Steve – great tips.

    Some of them I do, but I liked #3. This is the same advice fiction writers are given…it allows you to tap into your creative mind and leave your analytical mind in the dust – at least until it comes time to edit and polish it up.

    Thanks again

    Reply
    • Yes, that’s my favorite technique as well. But it can also be the most difficult to do. Silencing that inner editor — the urge to go back and fix and revise — isn’t easy.

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      • I find that my brain wants to write, it’s my eyes that want to edit. I touch-type, so simply closing my eyes goes a long way to shutting down the inner editor. It’s also more relaxing and removes other sources of distraction.

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  8. Wow Steve! More good tips from you. I’ve used outlining before but have to fight off the urge to edit each time. I like the “write as much as you can without editing” approach. I find that very useful and quite liberating. Yes… liberating. My head sometimes gets so full of ideas and feedback from my left-brained trained mind that it takes a while for certain things to come forth.

    You never fail to teach something very valuable.

    Thank you once again.

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  9. Thanks, Steve – My “inner editor” is the hardest for me…I’ll need to work on that one. I like the tent pole analogy too. Great advice!

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    • Sharon, silencing my “inner editor” — at least until I get a rough draft done — is a challenge for me, too.

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  10. Steve – Thanks for sharing these writing tips. They especially resonate with me, since my editor, and mentor, at the weekly paper taught me these very same tips back in 1997 when I was a new reporter. The reminder is both needed and appreciated.

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  11. Writing the opening and then letting it flow from there has long been my preferred technique. But I think my inner editor must have some superhero powers because muffling that nagging voice is nearly impossible!

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    • I DO let me inner editor take over when writing the opening. Once I nail that, which can take some time, the rest of the piece — in rough draft — comes fairly easily.

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  12. My trick is to group my thoughts or the clients information. I put the piles of related information into envelopes then I can write quickly and precisely.

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    • That’s an interesting approach, Laureen! I might try that.

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  13. What great advice! I can put these tips and techniques into practice starting now – I constantly struggle with writing copy and this may be just what I need to help me move forward.

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    • Thanks Raymonde. I’m glad you found the information useful!

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  14. As a novice science writer and communicator, I just would like to say “Thanks a lot”!

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    • My pleasure. I’m glad you found the article helpful!

      Reply
  15. Great points, Steve. I have to remember more often to give myself permission to write the crap draft. It’s hard to let go and trust you’ll get the right ideas down on paper, especially when you’re writing on deadline, One other technique that can be helpful for the “free write” — the writing as fast as you can — is to write on a pad with a pen. I’ve heard that the brain operates a bit differently when you are using just one side of your body (versus two when you type) and allows you to be more creative. I don’t know if there is truth to that, but the process can feel more freeing.

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  16. Hey Steve ~
    Makes a lot of sense. Somehow I always manage to go back & edit, then I find I’m wasting more time, doing the same job over & over.
    Thanks a bunch.

    Reply
  17. I write and edit books and your tips for writing marketing copy apply to book writing as well. I use bullet points first for the chapter main idea, then for the topics I will cover inside each chapter. Doing it this way keeps me on task and topic. It’s like watching a flower bloom. (Yes, I’m an avid gardener, too.) 🙂 Thanks for the great tips!

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  18. Thanks, Steve! Great post!

    Re: 6. Incubate, I recall reading that the subconscious mind will continue to “work a problem” after the conscious mind has left it behind. Pretty cool! (Some days I REALLY need my subconscious to come through! 🙂

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  19. Hello Steve- I had read a copy of your book a month or two ago, borrowed from the library. Now I have my own and it’s got the CD-ROM!!The book is fantastic but with the CD OMG! Such value as to astound the greatest writer. Thanks a trillion!

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  20. nice one. I especially like incubate.

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  21. I am so glad I came across this site. I struggle to write sometimes, and because I am a perfectionist I am always trying to make everything perfect. That inner editor is ALWAYS ON! You have some great points here, I think I will try points one and three.

    Reply
  22. Thanks so much Steve for these helpful tips!

    Maima Jones

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  23. Steve, thanks a zillion as this piece of your advice makes enormous sense. I haven’t yet been able to come out of my editing hangover (had been on the editing desk for over a decade) and that’s why get stuck too often. Will surely shake off this habit at the earliest and power-kick-start my writing.

    Reply
  24. Thanks for the advice…any tips on silencing the inner editor is gladly accepted.
    I’m writing lots of content articles and I really need to pick up the pace!

    Reply

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