S.P.E.E.D. Writing: 5 Tips to
Double Your Writing Productivity

image of speedometer

Some people are writing machines. They get an idea, pound it out in minutes, post it to their blog, and move on to something else. For the rest of the world, writing is often slow, grinding work.

But it doesn’t have to be. Anyone can write faster if they follow a 5-step formula for writing more efficiently. I call it S.P.E.E.D. Writing.

Before I describe this formula, let me admit that I write a lot. I serve dozens of clients, maintain two of my own blogs, write for a political blog, write articles for half a dozen other blogs, and do other miscellaneous writing. It seems I can never write fast enough.

I’m not slow. But I can’t whip out copy and walk away as some do. One problem I have is editing while I write. It slows me down. In fact, I rewrote this paragraph that you’re reading right now three times before moving on.

By studying my own bad habits and with the advice of others, I came up with the S.P.E.E.D. Writing formula to help myself write faster and be more productive. When I follow it, I can write twice as fast or faster.

S: Select a topic

Not having anything to say can cause writer’s block. But having too much to say is a problem too.

If you try to jam in every thought, you’ll end up with an unfocused post. This slows you down because you’ll have to figure out how to make all the extra stuff sound relevant. Then, because you know it’s not relevant, you’ll just spend more time deleting it later.

Narrow your topic to one idea. ONE idea. If other topics come to mind, make a note of them for other posts. By sticking to one and only one idea, you’ll force yourself to stay on-point, which will shorten your writing time and give your readers a better post.

P: Prepare your facts

When you find yourself staring helplessly at your computer screen, it’s almost always because you don’t have facts at hand. Gathering information before you start will usually get you writing quickly.

Before you write a single word, jot down a few notes. If you don’t have the facts in your head or if you need additional information, do a little research. That can be as simple as opening a book, scanning a magazine, or Googling a few key terms. Don’t “compose” while taking notes. Just get the facts all in one place.

Starting an idea file is a huge time-saver. I keep a simple text file on my computer desktop and jot down ideas as I get them. I also use Google Notebook to record notes from online reading. I don’t tear out magazine bits anymore because that creates clutter that I have to sort through later.

E: Establish a structure

Some writers like to think that writing should be free of rules. But that’s bunk.

Every piece of writing, especially blog writing, needs structure. It could be a short narrative, a Q&A, a series of bullet points, a numbered list, etc.

You can use this structure to outline your post. It doesn’t have to be a formal outline like the type you learned in school. Just take all your facts or ideas and arrange them in the order you want them to appear in your finished piece, using your chosen structure as a guide.

For this article, I decided to use an easy to remember acronym, S.P.E.E.D., to give me five points to cover. Once I collected my information, I divided it among these five points.

A set structure also helps you avoid the trap of linear writing. You don’t have to start at the beginning and write line-by-line to the end. With a structure, you can write in pieces, in any order you like. For this article, I’m writing the five points first, and I’ll write the introduction last.

E: Eliminate distractions

This is harder than it sounds. There are so many distractions in my day that I often take multitasking to the extreme. That slows down writing exponentially.

Like any other task you want to complete quickly, writing requires undivided attention. Turn off the TV, mute the phone, close your email program, get off your social networks, and just write.

D: Dash to the finish

This is the biggie. You can’t agonize over every word or sit and stare at your computer screen. Put your fingers on the keyboard and GO.

It doesn’t have to be perfect writing. Just get the words down. You might be surprised at how much you can get done and how good it is if you take off the brakes and let ‘er rip.

This means you can’t read and reread what you’re writing while you write. I’ll admit, this is tough for me. When I get stumped, I often go back and read what I’ve written to create momentum that can carry me forward.

It works sometimes. But it’s a bad idea for a first draft. You can read what you’ve written after you’ve written it all the way through.

It also means you shouldn’t edit while you write. Writing and editing should be separate tasks. Take off the editor hat and just plow through until you’re finished. Later, you can edit and revise.

(I have to laugh at myself for giving this advice, because if this were a crime, I’d get life in jail.)

If you follow this formula, you’ll quickly end up with a written post. You’ll want to edit right away, but don’t. Just walk away. Once all the words are down and in order, save your document and do something else.

Later, you can edit with a fresh eye. Objectivity always makes you a better editor. You’ll catch the mistakes. You’ll spot the extraneous details. You’ll cut the fat.

Okay. I’m done. Now I’m going to save this and . . . aw nuts. I just reread the article.

It’s easier to give this advice than to follow it.

About the Author: Dean Rieck is an internationally-respected copywriter and publisher of Pro Copy Tips, a blog that provides copywriting tips for professional copywriters.

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Comments

  1. Great piece of advice you have here Dean, but as you are saying is hard sometimes to follow it.

    For me it’s quite hard to eliminate distractions and “Dash to the finish”, but I will do my best to change this.

    PS: You just got yourself a new reader :)

  2. You know, I’ve been writing as an amature for years, including newspapers, books, magazines, and now blogging. Yet I didn’t have a well-thought-out plan for writing in really any of those areas. This is a big help and I look forward to putting it into play.

  3. Turn your monitor off as you type. When you’re done with your rough draft, turn your monitor back on.

    Simple, but works like a charm.

  4. Most of what you said I use in teaching people to write short memoir. It really works, especially for new writers, however, it’s more difficult to teach old writers new tricks, besides they are harder on themselves than beginners.

    I wish I could take more of my own advice. Now that that same advice is coming from you, perhaps I’ll follow it!

    Thank you.

  5. I am a victim of obsessive editing, which absolutely slows me down. One thing I’ve been doing that really helps is, as you suggest, create a text page of ideas. Some are just a phrase, a title or a couple of sentences, just to make sure I don’t lose the idea when it comes into my head. Some are rough posts, sometimes rambling, but serve as the raw material to edit later. I usually get a post from one of these, and rarely do I sit, write, and post all in one sitting.

  6. I was just tearing my hair out over creating 1 post! It has taken me days and I was starting to feel like a failure.

    Yes, writing should be fluid; editing bringing order @ the end.

  7. I have difficulty with staying focused on one idea. I have so much to say about one topic that the article I write could probably be two or three articles, and I have to trim it down. Maybe I need to differentiate between a topic and an idea. Good thoughts!

  8. My task list lately has a “take a speed reading course”, and yet what I need more than anything is a speed-writing course. Thanks for this great post. If I could only not obsess over editing and writing flawless grammar and punctuation, I would most likely double my content (and then go back and edit it later?!!!). No seriously, logical flow, thanks!!! Off to implementation! :)

  9. This is great, Dean. I have a detail monster sitting on my shoulder; I obsess too much about getting everything right and spent an embarrassing amount of time on a post just yesterday (sometimes I obsess when I write blog comments). But writing is rarely “done,” there’s always something that can be tweaked or reworded. There has to be a point where you decide it’s ready and send it out into the world.

    Dash to the finish and edit later? Your jail cell would be mighty crowded… but it’s good advice and well worth practicing. Your mnemonic is about to become a sticky note on my desktop.

  10. Nice tips. I’ve found the WordPress plugin “Peter’s Post Notes” to be an extremely useful tool in the dashboard. Have an idea? Write the post title, and use the notes on the side to jot down your outline, links to facts and data, etc… so when you sit down to bang out the post, this serves as a guide to keep you writing smoothly.

  11. That sounds nifty, Rob, thanks for the pointer.

    My secret weapon is a timer. Nothing entirely tames my editing monster, but putting a time limit around writing tasks at least keeps it in check. :)

  12. I love this post, and since I am just about beginner in travel-writing, this is also very helpful in getting me used to writing articles. S.P.E.E.D. is easy to remember too. My biggest problem is picking too wide a topic, so this should help. Thank you.

  13. I already use this kind of structure in my writing. Haha, never thought of a COOL way to express it. Writing is not such a big deal for me, but I understand that blogging needs structure. And if I write the way I want, it’ll be chaos. I have a notebook in which I scribble all my brainstormings. I usually write them down in a ‘tree-format’ – or a cloud with linked subjects. This helps me to build structure and a relaxed reading atmosphere in my articles. I don’t want to push to much info at once to the reader.

    Whenigetrich.com

  14. Shane: You mean turn off the computer monitor so you can’t see what you’re typing? Now that’s radical advice. But I see why that might work for some people.

    Momblebee: I feel your pain. I can be an obsessive editor too. I’m never happy and find myself editing stuff I’ve written from years ago. But I know that’s unhealthy and I’m trying to break that nasty habit.

  15. Hi Dean,

    Great post. Might I suggest that S is “Stay on topic” then?

    Shane, that sounds like an interesting idea. Difficult to implement on my laptop though! :)

  16. Hi Dean,

    I loved your SPEED tips. I write fast, but I am always trying to shave an extra minute or two from my best lap. Turning off the inner editor is HARD, but it’s always worth it. You can always go back, the most important thing is to step on the gas. You don’t have to be great to get going, but you do have to get going if you want to be great.

    Sonia, I love working with a timer – it ALWAYS helps me muffle the inner editor when I know I’m trying to beat the clock.

  17. Hey Dean.

    These might seem obvious to some, but I was glad to have this provided. I wrote some of the important points for me to follow down on paper, which is a rarity for someone to do with an online article. One key point I will take is to prepare facts beforehand. I tend to extend the process by lackadaisically remembering facts one at a time and checking them out in the same way. Collecting them beforehand will do great for the process.

    I also hadn’t thought about planning the structure beforehand, so I will give that a go as well.

    Thanks for your presentation here.

  18. Great tips, I like writing and have lots of info to get out.

    Dr. Letitia Wright
    The Wright Place TV Show
    http://wrightplacetv.com
    http://www.twitter.com/drwright1

  19. I think it helps to have an outline with facts and clearly stated goals to write an article. Sometimes I spend half my time wondering what I want to discuss in an article–going back and forth on it. I find that if I have an outline with a structure, I write and it flows much more easily. Great post.

  20. I do believe in editing, and I don’t even think I’m (too) unhealthy for the amount of editing I do for posts. BUT, not while drafting.

    Your “leave it alone” advice is something that I don’t think enough bloggers do–the tendency is to pound something out for today and get it up there. I don’t think people realize that letting it sit for a day actually saves time, because you see any little problems so much more clearly after a night’s sleep.

  21. “It doesn’t have to be perfect writing. Just get the words down.”

    YES YES YES! Something that I have remind myself at times as well.

  22. Great idea to “leave it alone” I know for myself if I do not take that discipline into my writing time I edit and edit only to get the first line written in two hours…

    Thanks again

  23. The other thing that works well for me is to just write and not edit. The edit always slows me down. I am also using something I learned from The Writers Coach. At the top of my article, I write a theme. This theme sets the tone for the article. That way, I can always go back and focus on the theme if I get stuck. When the article is done, I delete the theme.

  24. Hi everyyone

    Thanks for an excellent post Dean! Some useful pointers here…

    Eliminating distractions is something many bloggers and writers find difficult. To combat it, I adopt a systematic approach. Earplugs in, phone off, email popups put on hold and away I go. I always sit and plan ideas first, before I attempt the body article. This works for me as it consolidates my thinking and allows me to narrow down what I want to write.

    I also agree with Simone. It’s very important to write a first draft and then read it again the next day with fresh eyes. As it’s hard to spot your own mistakes straight away, this can be a useful way to eliminate any technical errors and read your writing from a different perspective.

    Something else that works for me is to keep a note pad for blog article ideas. After every finished blog post, I spend 10 minutes jotting down other blog topics. So, when I want to write another blog post, my ideas are already there.

    Mind you, as a copywriter, there’s always something to write about. The trick is choosing what to write about next!

    Thanks again – I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Dean.

  25. Great info on writing. My coach, Eric Lofholm says “focus on completion not perfection”. I try to just write and go back and edit. It does help to get the words out and they evaluate. Thanks,

  26. This article came at the perfect time for me; I’ve got so many projects going on, and I love to come up with new ones, so basically I feel like I’m chasing my tail half the time!

    One thing I do that is different from the author’s advice here is that sometimes (not all the time) I do put on a movie or listen to music (it has to be without words). If I watch movies, they have to be ones I’ve seen a hundred times so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything and can just look up when I want to.

    It also helps me stay focused and fresh if I get up every 45 minutes or so and do 15 minutes of chores. This is probably my best focusing tool (plus it gets the house clean).

  27. Dean, yes, turn the monitor off (or place a sheet of paper in front of your laptop screen).

    The saying, “out of sight, out of mind,” stands here. Just consider it, “out of sight, out of editor’s mind.”

    Just try it once folks. You’ll see(figuratively of course) :)

  28. I am going to print this out and tape it up! Thanks for the awesome advice!

  29. This was an excellent post Dean. U’ve simplify the writing methods which makes it easier for me and all the readers in improving our writing skills and generating idea for blogpost.

    Thanks once again!

  30. I forgot to mention something…I just completed the first draft of my autobiography with this practice of just getting it out. The quote that helped me was from the movie Finding Forrester: “No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”

  31. “Okay. I’m done.” – reminds me of Boiler Room are Ben gives that wicked speech to the new recruits. Sorry, I know it’s off topic, but I love that part.

    I can identify with every step in this post. I have a 3 year old running around half of the day and 3 puppies the entire time.. I would kill for even an hour to write without distraction.

    I also have a tendency to want to talk about way too much at once. Picking a topic is a great why to stay focused. I’ve gotten much better about cutting the fat since I’ve started reading Copyblogger!

  32. One of the coolest aspects of writing for the web is that there are so many effective structures to choose from!

    I’ve invented a couple of my own, too. One is for writing “practical tips” and it’s really useful. Once I get an idea for a tip, I can usually knock it out in 10 minutes.

  33. I like the advice and how you cleverly used the acronym.

    Wish I could come up with a concrete plan to find time free of distractions when I am a new mom. A new season, a new challenge…

  34. Dean, I liked this post. The subject is relevant in my life right now as I’m writing a book. I bought a program called “how to write a book in 14 days”. It suggests outlining your chapters with 15 subpoints, and then writing 3 bullet points under each subpoint and to write for 5 minutes as fast as you can incorporating the 3 bullet points.
    I’m getting stuck b/c I feel like if I write too fast, my content sucks. Am I getting too hung up on evaluating my work? Do you like this particular speed writing idea? any other suggestions?

  35. You had me laughing (and commiserating) about taking your own advice about self editing. Why is it so hard to just write, wait a bit, and then edit? Don’t know, but it is. And please don’t ask me how many times I’ve backspaced and edited and reread this short little comment. It’s downright embarrassing! (Looking up how to spell embarrassing doesn’t count, does it?)

  36. These are great steps, I have a few friends who blog and according to them, take days and even weeks to finalize a SINGLE post. Frankly, I think it’s a bit ridiculous.

    I am one of the few that actually sits down and bangs out a post in less than an hour. For one of my blogs, this works extremely well and I get plenty of great feedback. Sometimes, I will write an outline or rough draft and then go from there. I have structures, but they vary each time.

    Thanks for your insights, I will be sure to come back to this post for future reference.

  37. This is great advice. I already do quite a bit of it, but it has been learned through trial and error. Thanks!

  38. Marc-I know I’m not Dean, but I do have experience in the book writing dept. Everyone has their own writing style and habits. The course you’re talking about promotes the, “write as fast as you can, no matter how crappy it is” type writer. Which is great for some people, but not for others.
    If you’re writing non-fiction, list each topic you want to cover, then look at each chapter like an article. Concentrate on what you want that “article” to say and spend around 30 min or so focused on that one “article”.
    Hope that helps.

  39. I am SO with you, especially on Preparing your facts. You’d think I’d learn after finding it so much easier to write once I’ve taken the time to jot notes beforehand – that helps with structure, too. Right now, Dashing to the Finish is my biggest challenge – I fall into the trap of self-editing while writing, which is just so WRONG.

    Thanks for the great post!

  40. Writing is a big part of my job and I fall into every bad habit you mention. Appreciate you sharing some very good ideas. I’ll keep it handy and refer to often as a reminder. I’ve reread these three sentences 4 times already..5.. damn!

    Thanks again.

  41. This is so timely! I was just accepted as a contributor to three different sites besides my own last week, so I am trying to squeeze in way more writing.

    I use a timer for everything because I have very limited time. I also do a lot of thinking during the day, and I’ll just jot down ideas as they come. Then, when I go to write I can barely type fast enough.

  42. These are great tips! To eliminate distractions, I find it’s incredibly helpful to actually physically write my blog posts in a notebook. The ideas flow freely and I’m not tempted by Twitter or Facebook. Then, when I type it out it gives me a chance to edit.

  43. I’ve been utilizing this S.P.E.E.D acronym for eons without even realizing it. You mentioned naturally speedy writers and then those that require a bit more time to flesh out an idea. I guess I would fall somewhere in the middle. This morning I wrote 4 posts. One that was published today at my newest venture The Unspoken Word and the other three are for publication later this week on my Inconsequential Logic website.

    More than anything else, I have to be in the mood for writing. If I don’t feel it, I can’t write. Hats off to you sir for the amount of quality and quantity of writing that you do.

  44. Great advice, Dean.

    I always jot down an outline before I start writing, otherwise I find it takes forever. As long as I have my key points (or even just sub-headers), the writing tends to go much more quickly.

    Unfortunately, I’m a habitual self-editor, even in the first draft. I have to constantly remind myself to just finish, then edit later.

    Thanks!

  45. Wonderful article and this article is specially for that lazy person who knows that money is in Content and as “Content is King” so people is so lazy to write blogs.

    But to be honest with everyone that sometimes I also be lazy and don’t get any speed to write, so this article as increased my speed.

    Great article… thanks Dean for sharing it.

  46. My strategy is to write first drafts entirely, in one sitting – no re-reads allowed. I’ll write a bunch at a time.

    Then, between 2 & 24 hours later I’ll review them all. Usually spot a few syntax/grammar mistakes, changes a few synonyms, tweak the structure and publish.

    500 words in about 30 mins, total.

  47. It hard to double the speed in writing blog article because every blog article must be include the main key word that is most searching in the search engine . So we spend more time in blog writing by focus on the key word . Do you think so ?

  48. Man, this is dead on. Very important pointers here. An important point to stress though is that practice makes you better. This process will become MUCH quicker the more you write. Nothing can replace practice. The way to get quick is to spend a lot of time doing it :)

  49. This is something I’m always working, especially at the moment, since I suffer from every problem S.P.E.E.D. is addressing. What makes it worse, is that I’ve just penciled in more writing commitments.

    I had no idea that it was such a common problem.

    If this how I write now, (obsessing over every little detail before a first draft is even completed) how did I ever complete my school assignments? I don’t ever recall writing like this. (Even this comment didn’t escape!)

    Such great timing for this article. Thank you!

  50. Thanks for this post I have just started writting articles for my blog. This has put a lot in perspective and makes my writting much easier. Thank you for this post. Looking forward to reaing more of your writtings and learning from you.

    Antwuan Bell

  51. Onya, Dean! This is helpful stuff in a field that’s been done to death. All your hard work paid off! Many thanks, P. :)

  52. Really good post and your whole S.P.E.E.D theory is excellent. I think the editing point is a valid one. Editing as I go is a habit of mine that I tried throughout my university life to break and finally managed it in my last year.
    I’ll definitely give these tips a whirl!

  53. Even the top writers ‘edit’ and then ‘edit ‘ somemore. Keeping it simple has to be the key to quick, effective writing.

  54. When I work on something. It takes me a while but I get it done. 10 minutes later I go over it again. And I spend another few hours tweaking. I loose so much time in my article writing.

  55. I’ve always stuck to this S.P.E.E.D, even before I realized that someone could write a post on this. One thing, which is still difficult for me, is the D part. Since, ‘ve been blogging for quite a couple of years, now I find it a little easier to get along with the D. Great advice, I’ve bookmarked it ;)

  56. Dashing to the finish is by far the most difficult for me. I always edit while I write, even though I know I shouldn’t. I’m printing out this list as a reminder. Thanks for sharing Dean!

  57. Great tips. Also bear in mind that we usually need a ‘warm-up’ para. Just start writing but make one of your first editing jobs to remove the first paragraph. A reader doesn’t need as much of an intro as you think – but you need it to get into the writing ‘zone’.

  58. Thanks– very helpful!

  59. As I said when I RT’d @BradleyWill’s tweet — Pure Gold!

    I especially like the bit about finishing – LEAVING IT – and coming back to edit with a clear eye. Really works wonders. It’s one of the reasons I hate doing rush jobs for. No time built in for this crucial step.

    And, yes – I’d be with you in gaol if editing-as-you-write were an offence. :-)

  60. Thanks for the great advice Dean. I agree with you and Jane Howitt – rushing to edit a piece is a great way to miss mistakes because you are too close to your work. Now I just have to apply that bit of wisdom!

  61. Structuring always helps, eliminating distractions is slightly trickier!

  62. I have to say that this post is the best I have seen at CopyBlogger.
    Thanks for your sharing.

  63. Excellent post. I love your S.P.E.E.D formula.

    My biggest thing is editing while writing too; I have to remind myself to write first and edit second. I work to get things down on paper first before any editing happens.

    I know all about distractions getting in the way. Being many things at once can lead to less time for writing. I like to keep a notebook, cellphone or recorder with me so I can keep notes and short scribbles.

  64. I love these tips, Dean!

    There have been plenty of times I’m filled with inspiration, whip up the article or post, proofread it, and I’m done. I’ve had probably an equal amount, though, that I’ve fretted over for days or weeks before I finally hit send or publish.

    Either way, I keep writing and trying to improve….

  65. This is awesomeness – very often I start writing on a topic to no end. With an outline and framework and the facts right out, that would save so much time!

  66. This is a wonderful advice I can use for my blog posts. Thanks for your time in writing your content. This will keep me coming back for reading more.

  67. Thank you for all the good advice. I just started blogging and I agonize over each post. I’m a big edit while I write person too, especially when there’s no time constraint (I just edited this sentence). My friend told me it would get better with time, but so far it hasn’t.

    I like the idea of a notebook, I usually leave tabs open when I come across something I want to write about, but then I end up with 20 tabs. Just to let you know though I checked out Google notebook and it said this,
    “Google recently stopped development on Notebook, which means it is no longer being improved upon or open to sign-ups by new users.

    If you’re visiting notebook for the first time, instead try exploring other Google products that are still supported…”

    Maybe I’ll just try a paper notebook, but thanks again for the tips.

  68. Thanks for the tips. I’m sure that it’s going to help me a lot.

  69. Thanks for sharing. I find you article to be an relief for those stick in the mud. It start with a plan.

  70. Thank you! You saved my day today. This is the most useful tip I have found today. Something that I can use everyday.

  71. Dean, I have been an English instructor for over 30 years, focusing on teaching people to write effectively and efficiently. Of course, any good teacher is also a good student and I have studied nearly every writing method imaginable.

    You have hit the nail right on the head, Dean. Writing an article is much like composing music. You first get the melody down, the basic theme that everything is tied to. Then, and only then, do you go back and add the strings, horns and percussion.

    Likewise, an architect lays out the entire exterior frame before placing the windows and the doors. A writer’s job is to write. Don’t stop to wash the dishes while you are cooking the meal. If you do, dinner will always be late.

  72. These are all good points! I especially find the last step tough, as, just like you, I’m always constantly rereading what I wrote after each sentence to make sure that it’s the best it can be.

    However, several weeks ago, I thought through my writing technique and decided to just try writing, without any editing whatsoever or even rereading what I write. Well, it seriously worked. I read over the article after writing it to the end, and it didn’t look as bad as I thought it would! While writing the article, I could think of tons of errors or ways that I could rewrite something… but after I was done writing, the end result just sounded more natural. I’ve found errors here and there, but it’s a lot faster if you just write and edit later.

    I still get a nagging feeling to edit when I write. Over time, I bet this nagging feeling will disappear as I get more used it.

    Christina

  73. Thanks Dean for such useful tips.

    I’ll definitely follow them as I need to improve my writing skills :)

    Cheers,
    Togrul

  74. Thanks for sharing. I just found this awesome page and cant figure out why so late…
    Matt

  75. Great advice, thanks. May I add my top tip for a fresh pair of eyes when editing? I always edit my work in a different place. Usually write the draft at my desk, but then re-read it on the sofa, in the garden, even in the car (but not whilst driving,lol!). Anyway, thanks again for your SPEED tips.