- To write efficiently, create a plan of action, including a desired angle, key points, and takeaway, before diving in.
- Never multitask while writing. Instead, get into a state of flow.
- Be willing to cut and edit your work, but wait until after your first draft is done.
Whether you’re working under a deadline or simply want to improve your productivity, writing efficiently is a valuable skill to develop. Often, writers find themselves stuck on self-editing or struggling to find the right words. A few tweaks to your writing method can help you streamline your process. Plus, an efficient writing method produces higher-quality work than a process that lacks focus or structure.
Outline your ideas.
Know what you’re going to write before you start. You don’t have to know every detail that’s going into the piece, but you can form an outline that will help you stay on track. Try listing out the main points that you’d like to cover. You can also guide yourself with a classic argument structure (Intro, Background/Problem, Claim, Proof) or use the Inverted Pyramid that journalists use (Hook, Details, Background Information, Call to Action). Decide what your key message is going to be and what you’re going to pitch to your reader in the conclusion of your piece (if anything).
Write first, edit later.
Getting hung up on your words can keep you from writing effectively. Many writers will start drafting, then find themselves circling a particular section rather than fleshing out the rest of the piece. Instead of perfecting each paragraph as you go, just focus on putting your ideas down on paper. Follow your outline until you’ve completed a rough draft. You can always go back and refine your ideas or fix errors. This approach helps you achieve a state of flow and shortens the overall amount of time you spend writing.
Start in the middle.
The introduction and conclusion are often the hardest parts of a piece to write. Your introduction has to hook the reader and set up your ideas; the conclusion has to bring it all together and, often, include a call-to-action. Sometimes, it’s easier to write the conclusion first and the introduction last. Better yet, start in the middle with the meat of your content. You’ll be better able to draft an introduction and conclusion that tie up the ends nicely.
Cut, cut, cut.
Any piece of art is as much about what’s missing as it is about what’s there. Think about the importance of white space in design. Writing is the same way. No one wants to read something that covers every piece of information imaginable on a topic. It’s too much to absorb — and it’s often a messy piece of writing. After you’ve gotten your ideas out, cut anything that doesn’t contribute meaningfully to the piece. That includes extra words and redundant ideas. Remember: save this step until after you’ve produced a first draft.
You shouldn’t multitask for any sort of work, but writing is especially inefficient when you attempt to combine it with some other sort of task. Our brains just aren’t wired to accommodate multitasking. Writing benefits from a focus that’s hard to achieve if you’re also watching a video or checking social media. Shut everything else off and work for an uninterrupted period of time. You’ll likely get your writing project done in less time.
Be willing to start over.
Sometimes, trying to salvage a piece is harder than starting from scratch. Once you’ve spent quite a bit of time on a project, you tend to get tunnel vision and ignore its flaws. If you’re generally not happy with a piece or you realize that you need to restructure it, don’t try to shoehorn your first draft into a new angle. One of the most valuable lessons for professional writers is to “let it go.” By returning to a piece with a fresh perspective and outline, you can write a new draft more efficiently than if you keep fussing with something that isn’t working.
Be kind to yourself.
Writing is hard. It requires a delicate balance of technical skills, creative drive, and rhetorical purpose. Even professional writers tend to beat themselves up if they don’t “perform” to their own standards, but punishing yourself is only going to distract you from your best work. If you feel stuck or frustrated, take a quick break from the keyboard and come back. Sometimes, a brief walk or a drink of water is all you need to get the creative juices flowing again.
Writing efficiently takes practice, but if you follow the above steps, you’ll set yourself up for success. The key is to streamline your process rather than miring yourself in it. To do this, plan first, draft quickly, and edit thoroughly. And no multitasking! You’ll likely spend much less time on a piece yet produce higher-quality work.