Fast Writing Hacks

Writing Process InforgraphBeing a part-time writer, speed and efficiency in the creative process is essential, because I have limited time in which to actually write.  My current fast writing process has evolved out of many years of experimentation and necessity.  With the help of technology, I use a honed-down three-touch process that delivers speed and efficiency in bucket-loads.  Click here or on the picture for the full infographic of the process.  Read on for the details…

If this speedy writing process works for you, as it has for me, you will be banging out stories in no time.  Tweet this!

The internet has changed the rules for Indie authors.  Without agents and publishers acting as gatekeepers, a novelist only has to find a willing audience and produce a collection of decent novels to make a reasonable living.

In the age of the internet, success at fiction writing is no longer reliant on just luck, but has entered the realm of hard work.  The more good novels an author produces the more money they make.

Novel writing, though, is a labor-intensive time-consuming activity, which is where the author’s earnings paradox comes into play:  to earn a living and pay the bills, an author needs to spend a lot of time writing, but to spend a lot of time writing a writer needs to earn sufficient money to pay the bills.  Maybe you are familiar with this problem from your own writing.

I make some money from my novels, but not enough yet to give up the other part-time jobs, the ones that actually pay the bills.  Although I approach writing as a business, it’s still not my number-one earnings priority.  This leaves me with only about six hours per week in which to write, and yet, I still managed to write a full length novel per year.  So when I do write the process has to be as slick, efficient, and speedy as possible, but without compromising quality or creativity.

The three-touch writing process I have developed short cuts the writers earnings paradox and enables me to produce a reasonable number of quality novels, despite having very limited time constraints.

The initial secret is to know where your story is headed.  This requires planning—a lot of planning.  Three months of planning.  It will come as no surprise to you that I used to be a corporate project manager in an earlier existence, so I know a thing or two about planning large projects.

If you are a seat-of-the-pants type writer, you probably need to stop reading right here and get on with your own thing.

Since I know nothing about seat-of-the-pants style writing, here is some advice for Pansters from AutoCrit.

I work out the overall story, main characters, conflicts, and story arcs.  Then I sketch out the story from each character’s point of view, with their character arcs.  Then sketch out the plot twists and each scene of the story.  (Pansters have probably given up ready by now in total disgust).  But hear me out—if I know what comes next, I can think about it before I actually have to write it, giving me a head start on the day’s writing: improving speed and efficiency.

The second secret, using my comprehensive plan above, is to create, edit, and polish only one chapter at a time.  This has several advantages:

  1. It helps me concentrate on chapter length story arcs, which increases reader satisfaction.
  2. Concentrates my mind on a strong start and a cliff-hanger ending for each chapter.
  3. Breaks the project down into manageable chunks, because the novel’s overall continuity is contained in the initial plan.
  4. Gives me a glow of satisfaction when I complete each chapter, and most important of all, gives that vital sense of forward movement for the project, which keeps me persevering with the writing.

Okay, back to the speed writing technique:  The first draft is where I claw back the most time.  To increase productivity I use voice to text software.  If you have just gasped in shock or if this sounds to you like sacrilege, STOP READING RIGHT NOW—the rest of this article is only going to really annoy you.  What I am talking about here is communicating the fantasy worlds and characters knocking around in our heads to readers in the fastest possible time; I am not talking about the joy of putting words to paper.

This article is about an author’s need for speed.  Tweet this!

I use voice-to-text in one of two ways:

Firstly, I don a headset and record my thoughts onto a recording app on my smartphone.  I find my mind is most creative when I am engaged in mindless tasks, like preparing food, washing the dishes, or hanging up washing.  Why not use this time to capture thoughts and create a verbal narrative for my next story scene.

Now, I am no slouch when it comes to touch typing, but dictating is at least three times faster than the average touch typist, and let’s face it, most of us authors are only average touch typists. I reckon I can dictate a thousand words in half an hour. Speaking the part aloud also allows me to get into the role of the character in a way I find more difficult when typing.

When done, I plug the smartphone into my laptop and transcribe the recording through voice-to-text software while I go off to do another job. I use Dragon12, but you can use any voice-to-text software that works for you.

Top Tip: Purchasing last year’s model, Dragon 12, is a lot cheaper than the current version, Dragon 13. (You can buy either version here, if you wish, and I will make a small commission).

With a bit of training, mainly at the initial setup stage, I find I can achieve about an 80% accuracy for fiction.  Considering I’m going to completely re-write the initial draft anyway, I am happy with this level of accuracy.

The main advantage for me is having ‘written’ an initial draft, at a rate of two thousand words per hour, before I’ve even sat down to write.  Using this method, the first time I physically touch the text is on the first major edit.

The second way I use voice-to-text, is to dictate into a headphone plugged directly into my laptop, using the voice-to-text software.  Again, this is faster than touch typing and means I can correct words as they are transposed onto the screen.  This creates a 100% accurate copy, but is slower than the first method—I reckon it’s only twice as fast as typing.  The main gain is a time reduction when it comes to editing, but the disadvantage is that I’m sat at the computer using writing time.

Which method I use depends how I’m feeling on any particular day.

For the second stage of the process, there are no short cuts.  Editing is slow hard graft.  It take patience, skill, and experience.  This is where the main bulk of my writing time is spent—head down into the laptop, grinding away at the editing.

However, as editing requires less creative juice, it is a job that can be cut into smaller time slots if needed: forty minutes in the pub (between dropping the kids off at their club and picking them up again); half an hour in a carpark between clients; anywhere with ‘dead time’ in which I can tuck myself away in a quiet corner and retrieve the laptop from my bag.

No quiet corner?  How about in front of the television while the kids are watching a DVD—let’s face it, the kids are all double screening so why shouldn’t I?  Ear buds in (noise cancelling, naturally), I listen to recordings of peaceful nature.  This helps me detach from my surroundings and concentrate on the text.  But everyone is individual, so if you concentrate best to the beat of heavy-metal, go for it.  The aim is to use down time productively.

The only trick I use during editing, is to load my text using Dyslexie font.  I find this font helps me spot many of those errors my mind normally just skips over because it ‘knows’ or can ‘see’ they are right.  You can find details of the font’s technical stuff and research by following this link, but here’s a short summary:

The Dyslexie typeface is designed to simplify life for those who have dyslexia.  With a heavy base line, alternating stick/tail lengths, larger-than-normal openings, and a semi-cursive slant, the dyslexia font ensures that each character has a unique form.

Do I have dyslexia?  Maybe a mild amount, but I highly recommend the font for anyone editing text.  And it is free for personal use.

The final edit, before I publish the chapter is to polish.  I have always been told that you should read the final draft out loud to hear how it sounds, but I have two problems with this:

  1. I tend to read what I think should be on the page, rather than what is actually written.
  2. I find it embarrassing reading out loud if there are other people in the house, and I cannot be so picky as to wait until an empty house coincides with one of my precious writing slots.

My solution, is to use text-to-speech software and some noise cancelling earphones.  The AI reads only what is written and if she stumbles, mumbles, or sounds breathless, then I have some editing to do.

Use whatever text-to-voice software you have available.  My Dragon 12 software is more sophisticated and has more voice options, but I actually prefer to use the simpler Microsoft voice-to-text that is built into windows.  Somehow, this voice just suits my writing style better, it doesn’t cost anything, and is with me wherever I find a spare twenty minutes to hunker down and do a quick spot of editing.

Then I publish.  And I do mean publish each chapter: on—that way, I get instant feedback from beta readers: corrections I overlooked, and encouragement which gives provides more forward momentum.  There is nothing like a reader saying they like what I am doing to spur-me-on to write write cycle blackmore and give me a nice warm glow.

Then repeat the three touch fast writing process with the next chapter, and the next, and the next, until the project is complete. Tweet this!

Of course, I wouldn’t publish the whole novel until I have completed a consistency edit throughout the whole manuscript, read cover to cover at least once, and employed an editor to proof read etc.  But the three touch method is how I make the most of the limited writing time I have.  I hope something from this articles helps you either improve or speed up your writing, or just provides some encouragement.

Click for the inforgraphic

Writing Process Inforgraph

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3 thoughts on “Fast Writing Hacks”

  1. I have to say I’m an unabashed pantser. I hate outlines and I dislike sketching out my story in advance. I found, for me, the secret of fast writing is the Anthony Trollope method. Which is very simple: butt in chair and write for a set amount of time every day. With a dip pen, Trollope wrote a page every 15 minutes for two hours each day. Or a total of 2,000 words every day. He did not outline, although he did have some idea of what the story was generally about in his head.

    The other thing that, for me, helps to speed writing is the Lester Dent formula. A simple story pattern that works for every story no matter the genre.

    Like you, I’ve found dictation and text to speech to help speed the process of writing. And I like your chart – very nice graphic!

    As they say, to each his own. Thanks for sharing and much success to you!

    1. I looked up the Lester Dent formula, very interesting. I tend to use the John Truby Blockbuster formula myself, together with an 8 point story arc for each character and sub-plot, and a modified 7 point story arc for each scene.

      1. Haven’t heard of Truby’s formula. I’ll have to take a look. Although at first glance it is too complex for my liking. Dent’s is complex enough! 🙂

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