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Writing for the Web – Speed Writing
Why You Need to Write Quickly
The base concept of writing quickly to make more money and be successful when writing for the web should come as no big surprise. For the most part, the more you write, the more you make. Simple, right? It’s just like anything else. The more you sell, the more you make. Granted, you might write an eBook and make $500 to $5000 on it. Or, you might write a 500 word article for $5. One takes longer and has a higher price tag. The other is quick and cheap. At the same time, you can get $25 for the right 500 word article, but it takes a lot more work and is unlikely, especially in the beginning stages unless you have some background already. So, the bottom line is: the more you can produce, the more money you can make; the more quickly you can produce more content, the more money you can make…faster. Still with me? Good.
There are other reasons you are going to want to learn to write quickly besides just handling more volume or the same amount of volume in less time. For example, one of the things I run into a lot is clients coming to me because they need something written and they do not have very much lead time. They need it today or tomorrow. If I can write quickly, I can fit it in, right? And, you can up the price simply because it is a rush order, especially if it’s supposed to be of the same high quality we all know you are already producing. Also, consider this. You wake up late. You have a doctor’s appointment later in the day. The kids are begging for you to take them to the park. You have to run an errand or two. Man, you have one busy day. You could take the day off. You are your own boss and most likely work from home, right? Who is going to know? Who is it going to hurt? But, what if you were good at speed writing and you could get your work done quickly and still do all those other things? What if you’re still working a normal 9 to 5 job and trying this on the side? You want to work two full time jobs or one full time job and a couple hours here or there to accomplish what takes many other people a full week to spit out? Plus, what if you fall ill or have an emergency come up? You still have deadlines to meet. Some clients and employers will be understanding, but not all—and even then, even those who understand do have their limits. Speed writing will help you put out more product, make more money, and meet deadlines even during the most trying of times.
Writing for the Web – Speed Writing
If you are looking at starting a business or making money for yourself by writing online, one of the most valuable tools you are going to have in your bag of tricks is the ability to write quickly (aka speed writing). If you haven’t heard of it before, you can still probably guess what speed writing is all about. It’s not a difficult concept. In fact, it is not even too hard of a skill to acquire. The question comes in as to what you are willing and able to sacrifice, especially when you are first starting out. This is also a skill you will continue to master and hone over the years. It doesn’t come overnight and I haven’t seen anyone who has failed to get better over time, if they keep working at it. Of course, we run into that old adage “Good, fast, and cheap: pick any two.” This is as true in writing as it is in any other industry.
How Do You Write Fast?
Writing fast is a combination of several things. Also remember, your fast may be way slower or way faster than someone else’s fast. There are several pieces of advice I can give you on this, and I will. The key thing to keep in mind, like I said earlier, is not whether you can or can’t speed write or you learn and put these techniques into practice. Instead, it is repetition and continued use of these techniques that are going to get you where you need to be. Furthermore, you are going to keep getting better. You aren’t going to find you have hit a ceiling when it comes to speed writing. Yes, your fingers and mind can only move so fast, but you will learn how to leverage what you do to make the speed writing work better for you, which again means more content, more money, and more success.
Essentially, there are a few things you are going to need and need to do in order to be able to master speed writing. First, you need a setting and routine. You also need a process—or, even different processes. Systems are going to help you out a lot here. You are going to need a lot of practice, but practice can be practical, and I’ll explain that along with the rest momentarily.
Speed Writing – Setting & Routine
If you have read any books or articles on how to write faster, one of the things you may hear repeated over and over again is to treat your writing like your job. In this case, it is your job. So, get out of the mindset that writing is easy and you can do it wherever and whenever you want. Trust me. I’ve tried it and it just doesn’t work. Instead, you need to set yourself up both with a place to do your writing and a routine for your writing time.
You notice in the heading I refer to the place where you do your writing as a setting. There is a reason for this. Setting comprises much more than a physical location. It includes atmosphere, time, etc. So, find a place where you are going to do the bulk of your writing. You might have an office or study. You might have a corner of your living room, a basement, or some other place that suits your needs. Make sure there is enough space for you to be comfortable. Make sure you can control the temperature. Take care that proper lighting is available. And, what else do you need? Do you need candles or some inspirational pictures on the wall? Maybe some aroma therapy candles or a way to listen to some music or something in the background would help. I recommend keeping old school office supplies in stock and in reach. Sometimes, holding a pen or pencil and making notes on a pad of paper can be very helpful to the writing process. Some people make sure there is no phone or even cell phone reception where they write.
This is your domain and your setting. I can’t tell you exactly how you can set it up. Over all, though, you want to have some place where you can be productive with minimal distractions. You want to have somewhere you can train your mind subconsciously to understand “we’re here to do work.” If you have a bunch of distractions around—kids running in and out, TV blaring, phone ringing off the hook, etc.—you are not going to be very productive. On the other hand, some people find it quite helpful to have their music going through Spotify, their iPod or mp3 player. Some people need background noise from a TV or radio. That’s fine, so long as it is not a distraction and actually helps you push through your writing day. One of the keys to writing quickly is being able to focus on what you are doing and shutting the rest out.
Along with staging your setting for writing, you are also going to want to do your best to establish a routine. This is infinitely beneficial both with your writing and that which is not your writing. Having said that, there are two things you must immediately decide upon for your routine: when to write and when not to. Yes, you are going to need some semblance of a schedule. You can vary from it here and there, but you want—no, you NEED—to try to stick to it as much as possible. Set up a time to do your writing. That’s your first step. During this time, you’re not going to work on anything else. You aren’t going to check Facebook. You aren’t going to field calls. You aren’t going to watch the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy or Walking Dead. This is your WRITING time.
I understand this can be hard to do. I work from home myself, have a wife, and four lovely children—one of whom has some pretty serious medical issues going on. So, what I do is set myself up multiple schedules. The schedules vary by day. And, almost every day, I have a block of time in the morning and a block of time in the evening. I split my schedule like that, because there really are no rules when it comes to setting your own schedule other than to follow it. Now, I may sneak in and do some writing outside of that schedule, but I do everything I can to make sure I am writing during those appointed times. I schedule calls and meetings around that time. I hunt for new projects during different hours. I play with the kids when it is not my writing time. I’ve gone as far as to put a lock on my office so they are not interrupting me while I am in one of my writing blocks.
Once I have that block of time scheduled, I schedule what I am going to do during that time. This is the second part of setting up a routine. I have time slots for editing, checking emails, working on XYZ project, etc. I also set goals. I want to get so many words done, so many articles done, so many things posted, etc. If I don’t get my assigned task done during that time, it probably moves over until tomorrow. Keeping a schedule and a routine requires that we make sacrifices. Sometimes, this means we learn lessons the hard way. If we continually make exceptions, we miss the point. For example, if I want to get 10 articles done in an hour and the hour is up, and I only have 8 articles done, guess what? Tomorrow, I probably have to get 12 articles done and I darn well better do it. Later, when I have time, I’ll review what went wrong. Why didn’t I hit my goal? This is important, because I need to know what to correct for the future. If, instead, I finish the 10 articles and I’ve spent an hour and fifteen minutes on it, the next project is being robbed of 15 minutes. That’s going to set it behind schedule. Things tend to snowball out of control when you don’t keep a tight rein on them.
So, block out your writing time, then block out the time within your writing time, make goals and attain them, or review later why you failed at your attempts.
Setting a Process to Write Faster
Once you know when you are going to do whatever it is you need to do with your writing, you need to have something in place that allows you to get from Point A to Point B in the most efficient manner possible. This process is comprised both of techniques and systems. And, different writing tasks may have very different processes. For example, with the short articles I write in bulk, usually less than 1000 words, I have a very simple process. I am given some keywords. I might do some quick research online, if I’m not already familiar with the idea or just looking for some different perspectives and ideas. I then usually go write into Word and start typing. In some cases, when I have the bulk articles, I may make a list of article titles so I can quickly refer to those as I move from one article to the next. I do, however, have a folder hierarchy set up for such projects, so that I can save, find and upload the documents easily and quickly.
Lists, Webs, and Outlines, Oh My!
For a long time, I swore against using the sorts of tools for writing we were taught back in elementary school: story webs, outlines, and lists of varying sorts. This was my secret for spitting out school papers with almost unnerving speed. I would sit down, write the paper, then go back and find quotes. However, as I have made writing my career, and have been involved with tasks of varying levels of difficulty, I have finally come around to the other way of thinking. I now understand the benefits of these writing tools. Where before, they only served to waste time, they now finally serve me a purpose and instead save time. When I work on some of my longer projects—training manuals, eBooks, multi-media projects—I start out with something like a story web. I actually make what the business word has dubbed a mind map, but it is the same thing in all reality. I use a program called MindJet, although you can easily use paper, a whiteboard, a word processing or graphics program, etc. This is especially helpful working on longer projects with clients, because it allows us to organize our thoughts, agree on direction, and pick up issues in the very beginning stages.
Once I have created the story web or mind map, I may move on to writing or I may move over to an outline. I have come to love outlines for training manuals and eBooks. These allow me to break down how many chapters I am going to have and how many pages. Then, I get to use just a few words to cover concepts and see how those look and feel in a particular order. I can change the order around, swap ideas in an out, and otherwise craft the document before I ever start writing it. Lists are helpful, because they give me something to base webs and outlines on. Lists are also very helpful when you have multiple projects going on or a bulk project. It helps to have a list of what you need to get done and can watch that list grow smaller. So, even when there is a ton of work to be done, writers can see that mountainous workload to dwindle little by little.
Earlier, I mentioned having a folder hierarchy set up for bulk articles. I actually have a folder hierarchy for all my clients and different projects, it is helpful, and this is just one of the systems you will want to put in place when writing professionally. You need to stay organized or you will get lost in the mess. Systems should help you improve your efficiency. I find it easier and faster to go through my folders instead of trying to do a search for an article that I wrote for XYZ company. That brings up another important concept: file naming structure. By having the folder hierarchy set up, I can name articles their actual titles. Without this, they would probably have a company or client or project name and then the article title in the name. Different people’s minds work in different ways, so you will need to experiment and discover which patterns, methods, and tools work best for you.
On the same token, you have to have your other tools set up and organized in a manner which will enhance efficiency and productivity. What kind of other tools do you need as a writer? Well, this depends on what sort of writing you are going to do, how much writing, and how in-depth you need to go. Here’s a listing of some tools that I use when writing for the web on an almost daily basis:
- Word Processing Program (MS Word, Apple Notes, OpenOffice)
- Email (Private domain email, Free email such as Yahoo or Gmail)
- SocialMedia (LinkedIn, Facebook, Google +)
- Online Presence (Private Website, Hubpages, Blogger, Helum, Etc.)
- Various Books in Print & PDF on Different Subjects
- Pens & Pencils
- Online Scheduling Tool (MS Outlook, Google Calendar)
- Incoming & Outgoing News Feeds
- Music (iPod, MP3 player, Spotify, Pandora)
- Spreadsheet Program (MS Excel, Google Docs, OpenOffice)
- Story Web/Mind Map Software (MindJet, MS Office, Open Office, Apple Works)
- Online Communication Tools (AIM, YIM, Skype, Google +)
- Keyword Tools (Google Keyword Tool, Market Samurai)
- Job Site memberships (oDesk, eLance, Fiverr)
Really, this list could be a LOT longer. And, you may not need all of these tools. Or, you may not need all of them daily. Some people will just need a word processor and maybe an email. That’s okay, if you just want to write. If you want to be a professional writer, you have to treat writing as a business. A baker does not sometimes count their register; they do this every day. An architect does not make their living by occasional doodling. If you want to make money online by writing, you are going to have to get serious about it and treat it as a business.
Speed Writing Practice—or—Rinse, Wash, Repeat
I can’t say it enough. No one becomes a speed writer overnight. It takes time and dedication…and practice. When a lot of us think of practice, we think of doing the same thing over and over again until we achieve the desired result. You would be correct in assuming the same about learning how to write fast. Unlike other forms of practice, practice in speed writing does not require a safe atmosphere where everything is controlled including the result. No one is going to be hurt by what you write. If they are, remember the old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Anyhow, you don’t need to find yourself a bunch of practice projects to work on. These can help, but you can also practice on your real work—the paying projects right from the beginning. The more projects you take on, the more experience you build.
I will let you in on a little secret. I used to type using the hunt and peck, two finger method. I was actually pretty fast at this, but I always had to stare the keyboard to see what I was typing. When I took a breath, then I would look back up at what I was writing. In the past, I actually broke keyboards because I was typing so fast using my two pointer fingers that I was slamming down on the keys way too hard. Many years ago, I took a job in a call center. I would actually remain in the industry for more than a decade. Meanwhile, I was hope working on a project one day, and my wife looked at me quizzically. She wanted to know when I started typing like that. I was suddenly using all my fingers, typing like you are supposed to. I was staring at the monitor and never even looking at the keyboard. Gee, I don’t know when I started doing that. Maybe it came from sitting at a desk day after day, having to navigate through several systems and leaving detailed notes while communicating with the customer and trying to read something on how to fix their technical issue I had never come across. Maybe it was simply sitting in front of and typing on a keyboard for so long. Anyhow, I was suddenly typing in this weird way and I hadn’t even noticed it until someone else pointed it out. I was typing about 75 wpm. Not bad. I mean, it’s okay. Last time I tested, I was somewhere around 175 wpm. That’s with years of sitting down and typing, though. The thing is, by continually doing things like typing, I was constantly getting better at it without even trying to or realizing it.
The same is true for speed writing. Sure, typing fast is part of speed typing. And, you will practice this skill simply by doing what you set out to do—write. You will learn different tricks, like keystrokes to insert symbols and when to leave words out versus when to abbreviate and when not to. You will learn through the experience of doing. There are plenty of writing exercises out there to help you practice particular writing techniques, skills, etc. And, there’s nothing wrong with these. You don’t need to take time out of your work writing, however, to do these. The writing exercises I see as something nifty to do, but they do not pay my bills. I can get better at what I am doing and thus make more money simply by doing more of it. So, I do the exercises, but only when my work is done.
Meanwhile, I am constantly looking for ways to improve and speed up my writing process. Can I rearrange my folder hierarchy? Is there a tool that will enable me to write faster—maybe using something like Dragon Naturally Speaking? Can I make those lists and webs faster? Can I push myself harder today that I did yesterday? The list goes on. And, as I ask myself these questions, I find the answer. And, over time, I continue to write faster than I did before.