Write Faster: 12 Top Tips for Freelance Writers

by John Soares on July 25, 2011

When you write faster, you get more work completed in a given amount of time. If you write slowly, you make far less money per hour, you can’t do as many projects, and you have less time for the rest of your life.

The goal: Work Less ~ Earn More ~ Live More. Let’s dive in…

Write Faster: 12 Top Tips for Freelance Writers

 1. Do the Right Amount of Research

Many freelance writers have an unfortunate tendency to research topics far beyond the point where they are still finding useful material. Don’t be one of those writers. Be smart about what you need to know and find it as efficiently as possible. You can always do a bit more research if you get to a point in your writing where you feel it’s necessary. (See best techniques for freelance writers doing research on the Internet here.)

2. Write During Your Peak Productivity Times

You crank out prose best at certain times of the day (or perhaps the night). Determine when these times are for you and do your freelance writing then. Get the cooperation of household members to make it happen.

3. Create a Good Outline

A thorough outline gives you both clarity about what you’re doing and a roadmap to push straight through from beginning to end. An outline isn’t set in stone, so don’t spend too much time creating it; add to it and move elements around as necessary.

4. Write One Paragraph at a Time

Break projects into small, easily completed chunks, and then do one chunk at a time. The paragraph is just a suggestion, but it’s ideal for many writers.

5. Learn to Type Fast

Use all 10 digits when you write by using the touch-type method. It will make you a faster writer and a happier writer. If you don’t know how, invest the time to learn: you’ll reap an enormous payoff over the long run. Several computer programs show you how to do it, or you may be able to take a course at your local college or adult education center.

6. Avoid Perfectionism

Know when pretty damned good is good enough. Definitely do a credible job (and definitely not a half-assed job), and make sure you thoroughly copyedit and proofread your work, but don’t go over and over the same piece. I usually do my writing in a 4-step process: quick first draft with some editing as I go along, thorough revision with editing and proofreading, second read with minor tweaking, final quick read to catch any last errors. See my post Why Writers Must Avoid Perfectionism for more info.

7. Focus on the Task At Hand

Keep your full attention on what you need to do right now. Whenever your mind wanders, bring it back to your writing.

8. Set and Meet Deadlines and Production Goals

Create deadlines for specific projects, or portions of projects. Be realistic, but also set deadlines that challenge you.

9. Work Against the Clock

This is one of my favorite techniques. Use a timer or a stopwatch, either a physical one or one you set up on your computer, and seek to get a certain amount of writing done in a given time. Another option: start the clock and tell yourself you will write with total concentration for 60 minutes, 30 minutes, or whatever period works for you.

10. Get Enough Sleep

You can’t write fast if you’re tired. Most people need 7-8 hours of restful sleep. I often take a 20-minute power nap in the early afternoon after lunch. I wake up refreshed and rarin’ to get back to my writing. Always set an alarm for your power nap: you can let yourself totally go into sleep or rest without your brain having to think about when you’ll get up, and you don’t have to worry about falling into a deep sleep for hours.

11. Eat Well

Be especially careful what you eat prior to your writing sessions. You want light, healthy meals that are easy to digest. Avoid large meals that leave you feeling full.

12. Be in the Flow State

Psychologists describe the “flow” state as the quality of mind and attention in which you are fully absorbed in what you are doing and you accomplish your work with a feeling of near effortlessness. You’ll know when you’re in the flow state; pay attention to what causes it and how you feel when you’re in it so you can more easily enter it at later times.

Your Take

Which techniques do you find the most useful? Which ones aren’t you using, but you know you should? What would you add to the list? 

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{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karen July 25, 2011 at 10:28 AM

Great advice. The only thing I’d add is ‘take regular breaks’. Most of us slow down the longer we work. It’s easy to think you’ve been working for two hours when only the first one was really productive. I always think the way to work fast for two hours is to insert a 15 minute break in between them.
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2 John Soares July 25, 2011 at 10:45 AM

That’s a great tip Karen. Breaks are very important. I rarely write for more than an hour or so without taking at least 5 minutes away from the computer.

And it’s best to get up and move your body during breaks, even if it’s just doing a little house-cleaning or heading outside to water the plants.
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3 Karen July 25, 2011 at 10:31 AM

Apparently if you type in your email address wrong your gravatar goes AWOL. Sorry.
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4 John Soares July 25, 2011 at 10:46 AM

Your gravatar is keyed to a specific e-mail address. As you found out, get the e-mail addy wrong and no photo.

I have Firefox set up to autofill forms, so I only typed the first letter or so and then select my e-mail address.
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5 Kristi Hines July 25, 2011 at 10:33 AM

Working during your peak writing time is probably the best tip when it comes to writing faster. Some people like to set themselves up on a work schedule, but if the writing flow isn’t there during a particular time frame, then you’re going to waste more time forcing it. If you just write when you’re feeling the flow, what would normally be a 2 – 3 hour article might be 45 minutes instead. :)
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6 John Soares July 25, 2011 at 10:51 AM

It’s important for writers to know their peak times. For me it’s the first three hours or so of the morning, and then I have another peak from about 2 p.m. ’til 5 p.m.

That’s why it’s a bad idea to let deadlines sneak up on us. Then we have to write both during our peak times and outside of them. Not fun.
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7 Carol Tice July 25, 2011 at 10:46 AM

Flow state rocks!

I’m into chronobiology too–writing at your peak time.

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8 John Soares July 25, 2011 at 10:54 AM

Love that word — chronobiology.

I also apply the science of biorhythms to my sleep. I typically go to bed between 9:45 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. and I wake up around 5:30 a.m. My body and brain like the regularity, and I’m at my peak of writing about a half hour after I get up.
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9 Danielle McGaw July 25, 2011 at 11:56 AM

I believe that the environment is really important, too. I simply cannot be productive if I am writing near anyone. I need to be pretty much on my own. The second someone starts talking to me I start typing what they are saying instead of what is in my head! :)

And if you have a short attention span, try the Pomodoro method. I find it a great challenge to see how much I can accomplish in 25 minutes, before I get my next 5 minute break. When I work in 3 hour spurts using this method I get a load of work done!
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10 John Soares July 25, 2011 at 4:52 PM

I’m similar Danielle. I usually write alone in my home office. However, sometimes I am out in public at a coffee shop or in a library. I’m fine with a relatively steady hum of noise, but if I can clearly make out a single conversation I have a hard time concentrating on my writing. In those cases I put on my headphones and listen to light classical music or bossa nova through Pandora.

I also do a variant of your Pomodoro method. I usually work for 50-60 minutes and then take a break for 5-10 minutes.
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11 Sherryl Perry July 25, 2011 at 3:19 PM

John,
I outline when I’m creating a course or writing a long paper but I do not outline for my blog posts. I don’t know why but it’s never occurred to me. I write random notes but I certainly don’t organize them in an outline format. Thanks for the tip. It makes sense that this one tip would make me more productive.
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12 John Soares July 25, 2011 at 4:56 PM

I only omit outlining when I’m doing a very short and simple piece or post that I can easily organize in my head.

When I’m writing a blog post, I’ll usually put the outline right into the writing window in Wordpress. I also keep a running list of potential headlines that I update whenever one pops into my mind.
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13 joy novu July 25, 2011 at 7:45 PM

This is a really awesome post! I have learned a lot form what you have posted, John. Plus the comments posted as well. Thanks for sharing this. <3
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14 Stephanie July 25, 2011 at 11:45 PM

Great post John! My writing process is quite similar to your own, where I’d write and edit as I go along, sleep on it, then revise and edit as much as I can the next day.

And I can totally relate to tip #11. I realized only recently that I can’t concentrate and work my best on an empty stomach! So I try to grab a small snack to keep my physical and mental energies flowing. :)

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15 John Soares July 26, 2011 at 6:13 AM

I do light snacks as needed, often a piece of fruit or a carrot or a few nuts.

And editing while writing doesn’t work for everyone. It’s just how I do it.
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16 Adeniyi July 26, 2011 at 5:33 AM

Great tips, John! Writing in my productive times when am refreshed makes me do the task enjoyably and a lot faster. Although, I would just write sometimes to take my mind of worries.

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17 Anne Wayman July 26, 2011 at 6:52 AM

Hi John, while I don’t exactly write to the clock I often keep track of my time – both to allow x amount for a particular project, or to see how much time I’m really spending at whatever.

I’ve recently found ww.toggl.com, a free web-based (or do we now say cloud-based) program that let’s me time anything pretty easily…and to see how I spent the day or the week… including colorful pie charts which are fun as well as helpful.

Awesome post as usual… you are the productivity expert!
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18 John Soares July 26, 2011 at 8:46 AM

Thanks for the tip about toggl.com Anne. I’ll check out the program soon. I’m always looking for the best ways to track my time and sharpen my focus on what’s important.
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19 Cathy Miller July 26, 2011 at 7:13 AM

Great tips, John. I developed a 3-1-3 writing formula that works for me to establish the outline and flow. I find when I’m organized, like you note here, it goes much faster.

3 questions to set up your story What is the problem – challenge – or point of the story? What would you like the ending or outcome to be? How do you get there or What’s your solution?

1 idea per paragraph

3-part wrap-up = Problem-Solution-Outcome
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20 John Soares July 26, 2011 at 8:43 AM

This is a great method Cathy. Thanks for sharing it!
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21 Eric Soares July 26, 2011 at 8:01 AM

Great suggestions, John. I follow most of your tips, though I never put timers on myself as that creates anxiety, which I don’t need. Often I’m researching something and get carried away, so that is an issue I must deal with.
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22 John Soares July 26, 2011 at 8:43 AM

I use a free program called Cool Timer. It’s only visible when I click on it, so I don’t have that visual reminder of the time passing. It has both stopwatch and alarm mode. I typically only use the stopwatch setting.
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23 Justin July 26, 2011 at 8:20 AM

Great advice John,
I also like Cathy’s 3-1-3 formula. It sounds like most of these tips are designed to get writers into a rhythm of sorts. I think that establishing a routine, whatever works for you, is very important for writers. When I first started out I stayed very busy, although not much of that time was actually spent writing. Now that I have a dedicated time and space for writing I find that I get much more work completed in a day.
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24 John Soares July 27, 2011 at 8:16 AM

Justin, creating a dedicated time and space for writing is crucial for success. Glad to hear you’ve done it.
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25 Andrew @ Blogging Guide July 26, 2011 at 11:28 AM

Hi John

I write as much as I can when I’m in the mood. And when I’m in the mood, I can often write and write and write…it just flows. But I do have to be in the right mood.

The absolute best way to write faster is…outsouce it!

Andrew
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26 John Soares July 27, 2011 at 8:14 AM

Andrew, you’re smart to write when you’re in the mood. That’s the best way to get into the flow state.

Some writers, though, will procrastinate on doing writing they need to do because they’re not in the mood.
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27 Mario | zapatos andrea July 26, 2011 at 4:54 PM

Hey John,

I’m not a freelance writer but I have to write alot of product descriptions for my ecommerce site. and all of these tips are super useful to me because I’m not accustomed to write anything!

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28 Stephanie July 26, 2011 at 9:38 PM

Very timely tips for me as I take too much time writing an article. Reviewing your list, I realized #1 & #6 are pulling me down. I simply over-research and over-edit my stuff! I do find #3, creating an outline quite helpful so I don’t drift from what I intend to write. Thanks!
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29 John Soares July 27, 2011 at 8:11 AM

I’m glad this post helped Stephanie! Outlines have been crucial for me.
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30 Jane | Find All Answers July 26, 2011 at 11:50 PM

Most of the times, the key lies in identifying the peak hours. It is actually piece of cake but most writers don’t bother to identify it and make the most of those peak hours.

I like your points about eating well and having enough sleep.
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31 John Soares July 27, 2011 at 8:12 AM

I agree Jane. I’m fortunate that I’ve been self-employed as a freelance writer since 1994. I get to pick my prime hours for work and use non-prime hours for other things.
John Soares recently posted…8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing

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32 Lindsey July 27, 2011 at 5:37 PM

Great tips! I’ve been thinking a lot about the peak time thing lately. It definitely makes a difference when you are writing at a productive time!

I also echo the suggestion to eat well. I recently switched from a carb heavy diet to a veggie heavy diet and I find that I have so much more energy and ability to focus! I had no idea small changes could make such a difference!

I need to rein in my focus though. I find that I get so many ideas brewing in my head at once that I can’t finish any of them. Working on that.
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33 John Soares July 28, 2011 at 6:51 AM

Lindsay, I’ve been much more careful over the last few years about the food I eat, how much I eat, and when I eat it. I typically do 4 smaller meals a day, with one or two snacks, usually fruit.
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34 Mike Carlson July 27, 2011 at 8:28 PM

Good stuff John,

I think I have about half of this down. Sometimes, for me, it’s easier said than done. I do think that it becomes a matter of pushing through until it becomes a habit. My biggest challenge is consistency in showing up ready to write, each day.
That’s my biggest challenge I think.

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35 John Soares July 28, 2011 at 6:52 AM

It helps if you can set aside a specific time and place each day for writing.

And we all have challenges with time management and applying productivity techniques, including me.
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36 Rebecca July 28, 2011 at 6:21 AM

Great tips!

Perfectionism kills the dreams of most people, especially writers. They have the belief that if they take one more writing class or workshop or attend one more writer’s conference, they’ll be ready and or qualified to write their book. Here’s a tip: write your book. If you self-publish, hire an editor to review your book. If you go the traditional route, it’s the publishers job to make sure your book is ready for market. This takes the pressure off to be perfect.

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37 John Soares July 28, 2011 at 6:54 AM

Rebecca, I totally agree about avoiding perfection. I did edit my two e-books thoroughly, but then I had my brother Eric (also a professional writer) carefully read them over. He found more errors.
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38 Rebecca July 28, 2011 at 7:40 AM

My mom’s a good editor and proofreader. I try to have her read my blog posts and articles before they go live. I appreciate the help.
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39 John Soares July 30, 2011 at 6:33 AM

My brother and I read each other’s blog posts after they’re published, and we send an e-mail if we see a problem.
John Soares recently posted…8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing

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40 Ivin July 28, 2011 at 12:57 PM

I think when you talk about the ‘flow state’, it’s soemthing I call zoning out. Love it. Also, I have a couple other ‘fast writing techniques if you’d like a guest posts on it (we are fellow tweeps:)
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41 John Soares July 30, 2011 at 6:49 AM

Ivin, I just sent you an e-mail about guest posting.
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42 Maria Cheska July 30, 2011 at 2:17 AM

Nice tip here John, I keep it in mind while writing. My way to write faster is to do all the research first,before writing anything. In this case I don’t have to open those research material again and again witch can cause more delay. I also set up some deadline and take some good rest.
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43 Felicia Brower August 3, 2011 at 9:34 AM

Great post, John! The tips left by your readers are also good things to remember. I probably have the hardest time with getting enough sleep and avoiding perfectionism. I’m definitely a night owl, so I end up staying up until 2 every morning and can’t get it together when it’s time to wake up. Definitely need to work on that!

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44 John Soares August 3, 2011 at 5:05 PM

Going to bed at 2 a.m. is OK if you can sleep until at least 9 a.m. and you overall feel good. However, if you have to get up at 7 a.m., you’re going to have problems with focus and productivity.
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45 Raymond @ Man On The Lam August 4, 2011 at 4:11 AM

I agree especially with the “be in the flow state” — you just get so much more done. I also use Windows Live Writer to blog as I can create my post without an internet connection — I’m travelling through Asia, and that something that’s usually pretty slow here.
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46 John Soares August 5, 2011 at 9:14 PM

I’ve heard about Windows Live Writer, but I guess I’ve never really had occasion to use it.

And I can tell from your blog that you’re really enjoying Thailand. I’ve never been there, but my sweetie and I are considering a visit to Southeast Asia within the next 2-3 years.
John Soares recently posted…8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing

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47 Bill Farrell August 5, 2011 at 5:22 AM

I must say you have come up with a comprehensive list there. The point that I find hardest is avoiding perfectionism. Not that my articles are anywhere near perfect, it’s all the re-reading, editing and so on that I go through. I probably spend more time doing this than writing the article. One method I find useful for writing is to write a series of headings and sub-headings and I find I already have 200 words or so, which I then expand on.
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48 John Soares August 5, 2011 at 9:10 PM

Bill, it’s definitely best to avoid perfectionism if you want to finish writing projects quickly. And you’re smart to develop a good outline. That’s the first thing I do before I really begin to write anything.
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49 plastic surgery photos August 9, 2011 at 7:32 AM

I think when you talk about the ‘flow state’, it’s soemthing I call zoning out. Love it. This is a really awesome post! I have learned a lot form what you have posted, John. Plus the comments posted as well. Thanks for sharing this.

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50 Pinar Tarhan August 11, 2011 at 6:53 AM

If I don’t eat well or sleep well, all of my work is doomed. So I always pay attention to that.

However I do get stuck in the perfectionism rut. I’m trying to write a novel, and I read so many things about how to write well that now I keep returning to the same scenes over and over again.

I think I’ll just print this post out, stick it on my wall and look at it every time a scene doesn’t get written.

And I also forget to time myself, another reason to print it out.

Thanks, John.
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51 John Soares August 11, 2011 at 9:54 AM

I’m really glad this post is helping you Pinar. And writing novels isn’t easy, at least according to my friends who write them.

Perhaps I’ll try to write the great American novel someday…
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52 Pinar Tarhan August 12, 2011 at 1:25 PM

Well, I’m sure you will find the writing process relatively easy once you have your idea. With your productivity skills, I’m pretty sure you can complete a great draft in record time.

I sometimes miss the times when I was younger and used to believe that finding an exciting idea for a story was the hardest part. Yes, it is hard, but it is a breeze comparing to actually writing something, editing and submitting it:)
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53 John Soares August 12, 2011 at 4:14 PM

I have lots and lots of ideas (and I’ll be writing a post about that soon), but it’s choosing the best ideas and then implementing them that’s the hard part.
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54 Pinar Tarhan August 13, 2011 at 2:58 AM

I’ll be looking forward to that post.
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55 Anita August 11, 2011 at 10:04 AM

Great tips John. I just started using Dragon NaturallySpeaking (speech recognition software). It really helps for the first draft. Now I think I’ll try using the timer technique.

Have a good day,
Anita
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56 John Soares August 11, 2011 at 11:19 AM

I may try Dragon Naturally myself. I think it would really force me to be clear on exactly what I want to say.
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57 Michelle Rafter August 19, 2011 at 12:50 PM

Great advice, and very similar to what I’ve shared in posts on the same subject on my own writing blog. The only thing I’d add is: think. Good writing is good thinking. The more you think about what you’re writing – how information from sources and research fits together, what the themes are, how a piece should be structured, how to start, how to finish, etc. – the easier it’ll be when the time comes to sit down and write. As someone who does as much freelance editing as freelance writing, it’s easy to pick out writers who are good thinkers: they’re the ones whose stories always include a nut graph and great transitions, and who can concisely capture the main points of a story in their own words rather than having to rely on quotes from sources for everything.

Michelle Rafter
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58 John Soares August 19, 2011 at 1:09 PM

Excellent point Michelle! Thinking — brain power and knowing how to use it — is crucial to getting quality writing done quickly. It’s closely related to being absolutely clear on what you want to say.
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59 Jenny Hansen August 19, 2011 at 9:39 PM

John,

What a great post! I found you on the Michelle Rafter blog where we were both listed and I had to come take a peek.

I am just starting down the Freelancing road so I’ll be poring through your site (and likely asking you some questions).
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60 John Soares August 22, 2011 at 6:20 AM

Thank you Jenny! Glad you stopped by, and I really like what you’re doing over on your blog — great mix of good writing, good advice, and good pics on your latest post.
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61 Greg Walker August 20, 2011 at 7:32 AM

Great post John, when you write as many articles as I do you have to get them done fast! I do all my hardest writing projects in the morning before the after-lunch slump sets in and find that works best for me. Perhaps I should start eating healthier food to increase production even further…. but that’s going to be tricky. Thanks again!
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62 Ana Hoffman October 22, 2011 at 12:30 PM

Oh, John – I need to follow so many of these to increase productivity of my own writing!

So much to do, so little time…
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63 Kat Tate January 30, 2012 at 11:12 PM

Awesome tips, which is evident by the flood of comments!

I also try racing against the clock. This worked on a recent assignment, when a new client said it should only take around 10 minutes to write each post (for their blog). It took some time to get my head around the client’s business, their expectations, tone etc and generate ideas. As soon as I started watching the clock and willing myself to write a blog post every 10 minutes, I did! In fact, sometimes I did it in 9!
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64 John Soares January 31, 2012 at 9:05 PM

I also frequently race against the clock.

And I’m amazed that you can write a blog post in 10 minutes!
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65 Kat Tate January 31, 2012 at 9:08 PM

I’m a fast typer! :)
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66 Marie Overfors October 13, 2012 at 6:05 AM

John, what an excellent post. I find that a timer works particularly well for me to break through the veneer of writing resistance. Just focus and write for 15 minutes, I tell myself. All too quickly, I hear the timer *brrrrrng*. Then I keep writing!
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67 John Soares November 24, 2012 at 8:08 AM

Marie, I also frequently use a timer, but I do usually use it in stopwatch mode. I start at zero and then write for a set amount of time, usually 30-60 minutes. If I’m really in the flow I’ll just keep going.
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68 Anne November 24, 2012 at 7:47 AM

Great information! I will definitely keep them all in mind when I draft my articles. This week I signed up to receive your updates but I think I need to give my email address again because they haven’t started coming.

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69 John Soares November 24, 2012 at 8:07 AM

Thanks for signing up Anne.

You’ll get an e-mail whenever there’s a new post here, which will be on Monday!
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70 Irwin March 16, 2013 at 8:20 PM

Sleep is my secret. It’s always fun and easier to write after a nap.
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71 John Soares March 20, 2013 at 5:12 PM

I agree totally Irwin. See my linked post just below for more info on the importance of sleep.
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72 mahadi1971 March 20, 2013 at 9:28 AM

Great information! I will definitely keep them all in mind when I draft my articles.
Have a good day,
Mahadi

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73 Adam September 11, 2013 at 8:36 AM

John, what do you think about online services for improving one’s typing speed like http://www.ratatype.com/ or http://www.typingweb.com/?

It is worth to invest time in?

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74 John Soares September 11, 2013 at 3:33 PM

Adam, I can’t say specifically because I haven’t tried those services. See if there’s a free trial and give one a try. Assess your results after an hour or two and see if it’s worth continuing.
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75 Adam September 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Thanks for reply, as I see Ratatype is completely free and TypingWeb – pretty the same but with ads.

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76 Tom Crawford January 6, 2014 at 7:36 AM

Interesting that you use a timer. I always use stopwatch, with a countdown of 50 minutes. Then I take a 10 minute break, and repeat the process.

Working this way boosts my concentration and output immensely.

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77 John Soares January 6, 2014 at 8:58 AM

Tom, that could be a good way to do it.

I like to work in rough blocks, because often I need an extra few minutes to complete a section of writing.
John Soares recently posted…Comprehensive Guide to Setting Freelance Writing Goals

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78 Diane Holcomb July 15, 2014 at 5:20 PM

Setting a timer works for me. Usually. Unless I ignore the “ding” and keep writing. In which case I reset the timer, and place it out of reach so I’m forced to step away from the computer and turn it off.

When I get stuck in perfectionism, I write nonsense, something like…”This is terrible but it doesn’t matter keep going the words will come” until I hook back into whatever I’m writing. The trick is not to stop and think. Just keep pounding away on the keyboard.
Diane Holcomb recently posted…Rewriting: The Journey Begins

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79 Patti Podnar October 17, 2014 at 5:06 PM

It’s so fascinating to read all of these different perspectives! I find that I don’t really fit into the typical (if there is such a thing) writing pattern. I never use outlines. In fact, when I was in school and had to turn in an outline for an upcoming paper, I’d write the paper first and then make the outline from the paper, just so I’d have something to turn in. I also always edit as I go…I can’t leave a paragraph I’m not happy with.

#1, however…that is my nemesis.

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