How fast do you write?
Do you know your actual your words per minute?
It’s worth figuring out for setting deadlines and planning projects. It’s particularly handy for when you see an opportunity you want to submit to because you can figure out whether you can realistically finish something on time for it or not.
The following is an adapted excerpt from Building a Writing Life: start a writing habit, find time to write, discover your process and commit to your writing dreams available now in paperback and eBook.
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If you’re only writing for yourself, then your writing speed doesn’t matter. You can take your time and revel in the words and work at whatever pace is the most comfortable. But if you’ve got your eyes set on publication, then you’ll often have deadlines and other external pressures to factor in so you’ll have to think about your writing speed.
Whether or not you edit as you write will have a significant effect on your words per minute, but that’s not all there is to it. Some of us are Stephen King, steadily churning out six pages a day without fail, and others are George R. R. Martin, carefully crafting a single chapter for months on end. Something more complicated, like a research project, will take longer than something you’re making up on the spot. Other factors that can effect your writing speed are how consistent your writing schedule is, whether you type, handwrite or use dictation, and also your personal health both physical and mental.
Write fast or write slow. Neither is wrong nor right, and your personal preferences rule which one you choose. If one speed works for you, that’s the one you should use. But if you’re brand new to this writing thing or have been struggling to ever finish a writing project, I highly recommend trying to gradually increase your writing speed over time.
Advantages to Increasing Your Writing Speed
I type pretty fast. Whenever people ask me about my typing speed, I always credit the fact that terrifying nuns drilled the home row style of typing into me in Catholic elementary school and, to this day, I still type like those intimidating ladies are watching over my shoulder.
One time I was explaining this origin story to another writer who scoffed. “I can type fast,” they said, “but I can’t write fast because I have to think about what I’m going to write first!” And they were so smug about this, I didn’t know what they wanted to hear in response. Because, obviously, I also have to think of what to write before I put it down on paper. No one is beaming me ideas direct from Neptune or anything!
But when you get in the habit of writing faster, your thinking speeds up accordingly. We often can’t tell the difference between thinking and overthinking when we’re in the thick of a writing session, and the latter only slows us down and wastes our precious writing time. When you increase your speed, you don’t have time for thinking about anything that isn’t essential for getting words down.
There are some excellent reasons I recommend gradually increasing the speed you write, especially when writing your first draft.
Outrun your fears.
When you write slowly, it’s too easy to question every word choice, your own abilities and get so bogged down in every tiny detail that you doubt the whole thing. But when you fly through the words, your brain has to move so fast it forgets to be afraid or second guess. You create a direct conduit between the words and the page, and that can make a world of difference in achieving your writing goals. When you stop over-thinking every word, you bypass your inner editor creating an unbroken line between your imagination and fingers. And that auto-pilot, my friend, where ideas feel like they are flying out of nowhere, is as close to a magical feeling as you can get with writing.
Keeps the goal moving steadily closer.
One of the hardest things about writing a whole book is the sheer scope of the project and the absolute mountain of words you have to write. But when you move through your draft quickly, the whole project is less intimidating because you can see the ending getting closer and closer with every writing session. That progress can be essential to keeping you motivated through to the end.
Reminds you that words are cheap.
On multiple occasions, I have written 2,000 words in a single 15-minute sprint. Now imagine it’s time to edit, and it turns out I have to cut those 2,000 words. Who do you think that cut hurts more for? Me, who only lost 15 minutes of work, or the person who spent most of a week to write that much? When you write a lot, particularly when you write fast, you’re not as precious about what you wrote, and that makes you a better writer because you’re more willing to cut or change those words as needed later.
Quantity begets quality.
The more often you write, the better you get. Just as your muscles get stronger the more you work out, every word you get down helps you to hone your writing craft and improve.
Writing fast = writing more.
What if you could get more writing done in every writing session? The more you write each day, the closer you get to achieving your writing dreams. And that means…
Get more done in less time.
If you could finish your daily writing in half an hour instead of three and then play video games all night, why wouldn’t you? I write fast because I don’t have a lot of time, but I have a lot of ideas and things I want to have written in my lifetime so I gotta hustle if I’m going to get them all done.
Race yourself or others for motivation.
I’m a spreadsheet junkie, and I use the data I keep about my writing to motivate me. I’m always pushing myself to beat my previous records like my highest word count days or longest writing streak. If you are a competitive sort, it’s fun to race other writers or even your own past times in sprints or other short writing bursts. When you focus on getting as much done as you can in the time you have, you can discover you are capable of things you never thought possible.
When I have something like a critical email, I go through it nice and slow, word by word, because I only have one chance to get it right. But almost every other time I’m writing it’s something I’ll have plenty of time to revise and clean up later. And it makes little sense to me to slow down to tinker with words only I’ll cut or change later. Plus I’m a bit impatient and a lot pressed for time, so I’d always rather whip through the draft as fast as possible to move onto the next stage.
If you want to try increasing your speed, word sprints are a great way to start. Once you know how much you write in a timed writing burst, you can begin to gradually increase that. Dictation is also great for improving your words per minute because most of us talk a lot faster than we can type. Planning what you will write ahead of time can also increase how quickly you can write since you won’t have to slow down to think of what’s next. If you think it’s the mechanics themselves tripping you up, do some typing practice and learn touch typing to eliminate the hunting and pecking and up your accuracy. Don’t be surprised if your joints and muscles may rebel at first until they get used to your new writing pace.
Just like building up a writing habit, increasing your writing speed also becomes second nature with time. I struggled for years to get anywhere near 50,000 words done in a single month, I now regularly write that in a fraction of that time. Of course, you shouldn’t try to increase your speed at the expense of what works for you and your writing process but, if you are looking to get more out of every writing session, it’s well worth speeding up a bit to see what it does for you.