How To Consistently Write 3500-4000 Words Per Hour (#9)
It happens to every author, freelancer, or blogger at some point. We realize that our business model of creating valuable content is actually working—if only we had more content to give.
I fell down the productivity rabbit hole back at the 2012, when I was only writing 900-1200 words per hour. I knew that my goal and dream of becoming a full-time fiction author was possible, if only I could build my back catalog quickly. But novels were too long, especially mine. One of my novels was nearly 250,000 words done properly. Another had taken me months and months to write. And I was burnt out. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day for writing.
So instead of giving up on my dream, I decided that I was simply going to learn to write faster. I studied suggestions from other people and made a list of nearly 30 different ways I could improve my writing pace. I ended up only needing four general principles, which I’m going to share with you today.
I applied the first principle and saw my word count jump to around 1600 words per hour. Not bad. I applied the next and I was suddenly in the 2000’s. “2000 words!” I thought. Eventually, I had so optimized the crap out of my writing speed that I could write at a predictable 3500-4000 word pace.
Here’s how I did it.
Step 1: Know What You’re Writing
I’ve been writing nonfiction for long enough that I could do a simple bulleted outline and churn out tons of words quickly. Fiction was a little different, but I finally settled into a 4-step process:
- Outline – I wrote roughly a paragraph per chapter about what would happen in the chapter.
- Write Beats – I expanded the outline to roughly five paragraphs per chapter, this time indicating whether a section is dialogue, description, or internal monologue. Each of these three requires a different writing mindset, and most authors gravitate toward one a little more.
- Sketch – I turned each beat from “tell” to “show,” thinking of them as short instructions for what should be on the page. I didn’t bother writing in connectors or transitions between the beats, just tried to hit between 300-500 words with each beat. Essentially, I sketched out the scene without drawing firm lines.
- Draft – I cleaned the sketch to what I call “compile,” which in software terms, means that the program actually runs (there are no syntax errors). For the fiction version of “compile,” I consider it compilable when I could hand it to someone and they could read it with no missing parts. This didn’t necessarily mean that the draft was perfect, but the draft communicated the story well enough that no one would say, “Hey, how did they jump from the bedroom to the restaurant?”
This process continues to work well for me today, especially because I’ve internalized a number of story structures and can easily apply them to my outline. In my opinion, get the outline right, you get the entire book right. I talk about this in my book, Nail Your Outline. This is true for non-fiction and articles, too, and you can easily adapt this structure to all sorts of non-fiction, including books, essays, articles, and blog posts.
Breaking the process out into extremely obvious steps that each only took a very small chunk of time to do was absolutely key to improving my writing speed.
Result: Jumped from ~1000 words/hr to ~1600 words/hr.
Step 2: Flow (and The Pomodoro Method)
When you have flow, the words are going to come out of you effortlessly. For me, the easiest way to get into flow was to use The Pomodoro Method.
The Pomodoro Method is a productivity tool in which you work for a concentrated, focused 25 minutes and then get a five minute break before starting again. People use it for all sorts of things, but I decided to use it just for writing, so as not to distract myself while writing.
This technique alone will help you see big gains in writing speed, especially if you’ve planned out your writing already.
It also helps you normalize your writing routine and tracking because the chunk of time is the same for every pomodoro (25 minutes long). My tracking spreadsheet suddenly became more useful in terms of what each number actually meant.
Original Tracking – No Set Length of Session
Word Count/Hour is the second column.
(Click to Expand)
Pomodoro Tracking – 25 Minute Sessions
Word Count/Hour is the 9th column.
(Click to Expand)
I recommend The Pomodoro Method to absolutely everybody, and every single person has said it helped them write faster. So try it. You will be surprised at how out of flow you are during a typical writing session without this.
Result: Jumped from ~1600 words/hr to ~2400 words/hr. Completed a novella that launched my second pen name in two days. You can nearly read my original draft word for word in that novella to this day, because I was in such a state of flow that I barely had any revisions for it.
Step 3: Improve Inputs
The bad thing for me about using The Pomodoro Method was that my wrists and fingers were in serious pain by the end of each day. I couldn’t physically keep up with the typing for reasons that were out of my control. No matter what I did ergonomically, I couldn’t alleviate the issue.
I grew frustrated because I could think of my story faster than I could type it comfortably. So I did a little research and found the concept of dictation, which is likely where our entire culture is going in the next 10 years.
(“Look kids, I remember back in my day when we had to press buttons on this slab of metal and wires just to communicate with each other. Imagine, typing in a word letter-by-letter. You kids are lucky!”)
(Sidenote: my prediction is that spelling will go the way of handwriting in terms of life skills. The next generation simply won’t need it.)
The concept of dictation is simple: the average person speaks at 150 words per minute, while the average person types at 35-40 words per minute. I typed at 70 words per minute, but couldn’t do that for long periods of time with consistency due to my fingers and hands. So if my story was coming at me at a clip of ~30 words per minute or more, my hands couldn’t keep up.
Dictation solved that. I took to it right away and saw huge gains again.
Now, not everyone will take to dictation like me. It makes sense for extroverts and incessant talkers like myself. Yes, there’s some throat clearing to delete in the editing, but for the most part, my story unravelled at an unparalleled pace when I switched.
For introverts, the concept still applies. Make sure your physical input speed over long hours far outpaces your thinking speed, because that’s the only way you’ll be able to transfer your brain to (electronic) paper for extended periods of time.
Pomodoro + Dragon Dictate Tracking
Word Count/Hour is the 9th column.
(Click to Expand)
Result: Jumped from ~2400 words/hr to ~3200 words/hr. I was killing it!
Step 4: Energy
Energy will always, always improve your writing speed, but you’ve got to know yourself too. As an extrovert, a lot of my energy comes from external forces. This makes it difficult for me to be a writer because most of my time is spent by myself.
At the same time, when I write with other people, I don’t want to write, I want to talk. So the most productive places for me are coffee shops where I don’t know anyone… and not to make you introverts laugh, but “not knowing anyone” just honestly doesn’t last that long for me, so I have to change coffee shops regularly just to get some peace.
This created a huge challenge for me because coffee shops provided me the most energy, but I couldn’t dictate in coffee shops. I could dictate at home, but I felt like the atmosphere was chipping away at me more often than not, making my writing stagnate.
I found a really happy medium for myself when I started doing walk and talks. This unfortunately meant I had to wrangle with a ton of technology. (I used my iPad to record and carried a mini-recording studio with me in a backpack as I walked so that I could get good sound and use my expensive mic, which was the only one Dragon Dictate could translate correctly—yeesh.)
The upside was that I could walk to secluded areas of Chicago (a.k.a. the lakefront path below Soldier Field) and speak my novel out loud, in peace, with only a few strange looks from passerbys. The outdoors gave me tons of energy (the constant scenery changes and bustle of people were a plus) and I also got some movement in each day.
Again, your energy may come from other routines, like exercise, reading a good book, or sitting in a special chair and sipping tea, but knowing yourself is key. Figure out where your untapped energy source is and make sure you have a routine to draw from it every day.
Result: Jumped from ~3200 words/hr to ~3500-4000 words/hr!
When Does It Stop?
After all of this effort (many, many months of experimenting, in my case), I lost interest in increasing my writing speed any further. One reason was because I sensed that any faster would start to degrade my quality of writing significantly. I was already starting to see deterioration at the ~4000 word/hr speed.
Another was because I hate doing things the same way all the time, and I started to get bored with the idea of going out for yet another walk and talk.
If you’re a plodder, you will absolutely, 100% love optimizing your writing speed, because you love routine. I would love to love routine, but alas, I’m a natural burster who needs variety in her day-to-day.
So now, I don’t write at 4000 words per hour every day, but I’m still happy I took the journey. I can write 4000 words per hour, if needed. That’s always going to be a great skill to have. Additionally, I can write a lot more than 1200 words per hour even when I sit down to type at this point. And I can dictate at my desk too, depending on what my mood is. Switching off between the different places and different ways I can “write” has increased the sheer number of hours I spend writing, which has helped me put out 6 books this year (with *hopefully* at least another five on the way before the end of the year—they are so close to being done!).
I hope this helps you figure out what works best for you to rapidly improve your writing speed. There are a lot of other tips out there, but most of the are too specific and work only for certain types of people (i.e. a plodder and not a burster, an introvert and not an extrovert, etc.) I’ve never seen any that genuinely matter besides these four above.
As always, my message in sharing this is going to be use the general framework and switch up the details for what works for YOU. That is how you’ll achieve the best results. Know thyself. It’s a freaking great productivity strategy!
Now a Book!
There were so many interesting questions in my inbox about this topic that I started writing a follow-up article to this one. That article grew and grew so I decided to make it a book! You can get the book, Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Day exclusively on Amazon with three options: purchase, Prime Member borrow, or Kindle Unlimited Member borrow.
Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Day goes deeper into the 4-step framework to writing faster: Knowledge, Flow, Training, and Energy, answers tons of questions from readers like yourself, provides a lot more data from my experiments, and even goes through an example of my writing process of Outlines, Beats, Sketches, and Draft. I also talk about my 2-month experiment that helped me establish a daily writing habit and write 50,000 words of high-quality fiction (the same goal as National Novel Writing Month!) two months in a row.
By the way, if you love frameworks like this one, you will LOVE The Inferno Kit. Start with two frameworks from the kit, 100% free: