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How to Write WAY More Words Per Hour (Without Sacrificing Quality)
- June 4, 2018
- / Articles Writing
- / By Ali Luke
Writers’ speeds vary … a lot .
Some writers would consider 100 words an hour to be a perfectly productive rate. Others would be disappointed by 1,000 words an hour.
Obviously, a fair part of this difference is to do with the type of writing they’re undertaking (literary novels tend to be considerably slower, per word, than genre fiction or chatty blog posts), but whatever type of writing you do, you can improve your speed.
Here’s how I know. When I was in college, I wrote a lot. I wrote essays, which I was fairly quick at because I had a good batch production system for them. During the (ridiculously long) vacations, I wrote fiction.
Now that I have two children and a packed life, I can’t quite understand why I didn’t produce a dozen novels while I was at college. (I managed one!) But a big part of the reason is probably because it often took me a whole day just to write 1,000 words.
These days, I can regularly hit 1,000–1,500 words per hour.
What About Quality?
One worry many writers have about writing faster is that the quality of their work will suffer.
Unless you go to real extremes (like typing at a breakneck pace so you can hit 3,000 words per hour), that’s unlikely to happen. For me, speeding up has meant cutting out a lot of unproductive moments—like the time spent messing around on social media in-between writing, or staring out of the window waiting for inspiration to strike.
If you are concerned about quality, though, here’s a challenge for you. For a week, try the techniques below to speed up your writing. After that time, look back at what you’ve produced—or, even better, ask someone else to read over it.
Is it any different from your regular writing? You might well find it’s better : perhaps you found it easier to get the flow of action in your novel’s scenes right, or you didn’t self-censor so much and you produced a blog post that was more raw and powerful than usual.
In the rest of this post, I’m going to take you through two key areas in which you can tweak things to help you write faster:
- Setting up everything around you so you can focus
- Making the words as easy as possible to write
While some of my suggestions might seem like small things, they can add up to make a big difference.
Setting up Everything to Write Faster
What you do before you write can make a big difference in how focused you’ll be once you are writing. These tips are all designed to help you maximize your chances of getting—and staying—focused.
#1: Eliminate as Many Distractions as You Can
Make a list of the things that most commonly distract you when you’re writing.
Here are mine:
- Social media, especially pop-up alerts.
- The internet in general: there are way too many interesting websites out there.
- Text messages.
- Things I suddenly think of that I need to remember to do (“renew library books!”).
- Other people’s conversations or background noise (if I’m writing in a coffee shop or library).
Most of my distractions can be eliminated:
- I can switch off my internet connection (removing social media alerts and a whole host of potential distractions).
- I can keep a list in my diary or notebook of things I need to remember, so I can carry on writing without worrying about forgetting them.
- I can wear in-ear headphones to block out other people’s conversations and listen to my own choice of music.
I can’t eliminate text messages since they could be from my daughter’s school or my son’s childminder, but luckily they only make up a small proportion of my distractions.
Which of your distractions could you simply eliminate as part of your writing routine ? It might be as simple as turning off your internet connection at the start of a writing session—or, if you know you won’t receive any urgent texts, your phone.
#2: Make Sure You’re as Comfortable as Possible
You’ll struggle to write quickly if you’re constantly having to get up and stretch because your back hurts, or if you find that your fingers are cramping every few sentences. (Plus, you could be setting yourself up for long-term pain.)
I’m sure you’ve had plenty of people tell you already how important it is to have your monitor and keyboard at the right height to avoid neck, shoulder, and arm pain. (If you need some tips on how exactly to do that, there are plenty here .)
I know it can be a bother to move things around, and if you write on a laptop, you’re stuck with the screen being where it is.
If you find your shoulders or hands getting cramped, though, do look into possible solutions. That might mean getting an angled support for your laptop to rest on top of, or buying a new keyboard (there are plenty of different ergonomic models you could try).
You may also need to adjust what you sit on, or how you sit. Good chairs can be really expensive, but simply adding a footrest or even switching to sitting on a Swiss ball could be enough to help you write for long stretches comfortably.
#3: Listen to Music That Helps You Focus
Some writers like to work in silence, but others listen to music for some or all of the time that they’re writing. Many find that the right music can help them get into the flow of writing.
It’s entirely up to you what you listen to: I’d suggest picking an artist (or even a specific album) that you’re already familiar with, so that the music can become background noise rather than something that’s an added distraction.
You might want to listen to fast, energetic music to help you keep up the pace, or you might find that something more mellow helps you stay firmly in the writing zone. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of music : you might even want to listen to different genres for different types of writing. Most of the time, particularly when I’m writing fiction, I listen to heavy metal, but when I’m working on blog posts, I sometimes put on chilled-out relaxation music instead.
#4: Set a Timer While You Write
This takes seconds to do but can make a surprisingly big difference: set a timer going while you write.
You might want to experiment with different lengths of time. If you’ve never done this before, try giving yourself 30 minutes: set the timer, and until it finishes, just write. Don’t do anything else—getting another coffee or sending that email can wait 30 minutes.
I find the timer works like a promise to myself. I’m committed to writing, and so I’m much less likely to get distracted by other things. If I’m working on a short piece (like a newsletter article), I like to set the timer for 20 minutes and see if I can beat it.
Once you’ve set up your working conditions so you can focus fully on your writing, the next step is to make sure the words come as easily as possible.
Making Those Words Easy to Write
Once you’ve set up everything to focus, you’re in a great position to write faster. However, there’s still more you can do to make sure the words come quickly and easily. These tips are all focused on your writing and how a few small changes to your process can speed things up.
#1: Choose Projects That You Enjoy
This is a great tip that I picked up from Rachel Aaron, who has lots of excellent advice for novelists on how to write faster .
Where possible, pick writing projects that you’ll actively enjoy working on: it’s much easier to move fast when you’re feeling enthusiastic rather than bored to tears.
If you’re choosing between different ideas for blog posts, for instance, you might want to pick the one that you are most interested in—not the one you think you “should” write.
If you’re a novelist, find something to excite you in the scene that you have planned next (or maybe consider coming up with a different idea if there’s nothing at all interesting about it; after all, you don’t want your readers to be bored, too).
Writing fast isn’t just about the time you have available—it’s also about having the energy to use that time to the fullest. Having something really interesting to write makes it far easier to stay energized!
#2: Use Templates to Structure Your Writing Where Possible
If you write a lot of similar things, like 800-word posts for your blog or 500-word newsletter articles for a client, use a template to structure them. This saves you from having to come up with a fresh structure each time, and can make it much easier to get words down quickly.
You can now concentrate on the actual words, rather than trying to figure out an underlying structure as you go along. If you always start blog posts with a question, for instance, then you just have to come up with the actual question every time rather than having to wonder how to begin.
Michael Hyatt, for instance, has a simple blog post template that he uses again and again; it allows him to produce posts efficiently, and to create a strong sense of consistency for readers. He breaks down the whole template here .
Templates aren’t just for bloggers, of course. Fiction needs structure, too—and if you’re struggling with how to structure your scenes, check out this post by K.M. Weiland .
#3: Plan What You’re About to Write
If you’ve not already got a plan, or if your plan is quite high-level (for example, an outline for a book but now you need to write a specific section of a chapter), then it’s well worth spending five to ten minutes planning what you’re about to write.
This is a technique I used when approaching essay questions in school exams, and one that, again, Rachel Aaron recommends for novelists. Those five minutes or so might feel like a waste of time when you want to get as many words down as possible in an hour, but they will help you move much more quickly through the piece itself.
If you’re a novelist, your quick plan might involve “roughing out” key moments of action or emotion in the scene you’re about to write.
If you’re working on a non-fiction piece, you might jot down the main points that you’re going to make in the next couple of pages.
#4: Think “Rough Draft” as You Write
Your first piece can be as rough a draft as you like ; no one ever needs to see it. My drafts often include little notes to myself about facts to look up. Sometimes I even put two different word choices in square brackets so I can dither about which one I want at a later stage.
If you struggle to draft without editing, you might like to work in “iterative” drafts instead. This means creating a brief plan and turning that into a fuller plan, which becomes a very quick, rough piece, which becomes a more extended piece, and so on. Each time, you go back to the start and add more text, building on and honing your ideas as you work through.
Should You Track Your Progress … and How?
Some authors like to track their daily or even hourly word counts in a spreadsheet, so they can measure whether or not they’re speeding up. You might find this helpful, so you know whether the changes you’re making are actually working. Some authors also find it motivating to write down their word counts; it helps them to focus and keep writing.
If you want to take this approach, you could set an alarm to go off every hour, so you can jot down how much you’ve written in that time. (This could also act in a similar way to a timer, encouraging you to stay on track.)
However, if you find it unnecessarily pressuring to constantly track your word count, you might simply want to look at your output over the course of a week. How many chapters, blog posts, or assignments did you complete?
What About Dictation?
I wanted to focus on writing rather than dictating in this post, but if you want to hit really high numbers (think 3,000+) words per hour, you’ll need to dictate.
Quite a few of the authors I know use dictation and find it a great way to get a first draft down quickly. I’ve tried it and decided it wasn’t quite right for me at this time—partly because I do a lot of my work in the library, or in a shared office space with my husband, and typing is a less obtrusive option.
But by all means, give dictation a try if it’s something you’re interested in. Even if you end up doing more editing than usual, the increased speed may make it worthwhile for you.
Which of These Eight Tips Will You Try Out?
If you’re happy writing at your current speed, then great! Maybe you’re not a particularly fast writer, but you enjoy taking your time, gazing out of the window, and fiddling around with words.
For most of us, though, that’s not a great way to work. We have projects that we’re itching to work on, but just can’t find the time for—or we have deadlines mounting up and we don’t want to work late into the night yet again.
Even if you think you’re naturally a slow writer, you can get faster. Just trying out one of these tips could make a big difference—though if you want to see real gains, put as many of them into practice as possible:
- Eliminating as many distractions as possible, so you’re not losing chunks of writing time.
- Making sure that you’re comfortable, so you can easily stay focused rather than getting put off by your hands cramping or your back aching.
- Listening to music that you love, so long as it also helps you stay in the flow of writing.
- Setting a timer while you write as a promise to yourself to stay on task.
- Choosing projects that you enjoy and that excite you, so you’re energized rather than drained by your writing.
- Using templates to structure your writing, making it easy to fill in the blanks.
- Spending five minutes planning what you’re about to write, so you can move forward as quickly as possible through your piece.
- Thinking “rough draft” as you write, knowing that you’ll have plenty of time to edit later.
Which of these will you try for your very next writing session? Leave a comment below to tell us what you’ll be doing.
About the Author Ali Luke
Ali Luke has been freelancing and blogging since 2008. These days ,she juggles freelancing, blogging, novel-writing and two young children. As well as blogging for a number of large sites (ProBlogger, Daily Writing Tips and more), she writes about the art, craft and business of writing on her long-running blog Aliventures.com. If you'd like to spend more time writing, download her free ebook Time to Write: How to Fit More Writing Into Your Life, Right Now -- it's a short read, with ten practical tried-and-tested tips.
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How many words do you write in an hour on average?
I just read Algis Budrys's Writing To The Point and he says that an average person should be able to write a thousand words an hour. I reckon that's probably about right for a lot of people, but I've been averaging more like a thousand words every three hours for years now. I'm not beating myself up over this, but I do wonder what other people's averages are, and whether some of you might have techniques for writing faster.
Don't stress word count and production rate. We're all different. Some people write fast, some write medium, some write slow. Some produce clean copy, some edit twelve times. There's no one right way - as long as your way gets the story on the page and finished, it's the right way for you.
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Agreed. And it's about your own expectations. I'd love to write more, have more words, etc. At this point, I've set a goal of 500 words a day. If I do this, by the end of the month of January I'll have more than all of last year. But each hour? I dunno. Again, expectations.
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I work full-time and only have my lunch hour to write, so that hour has to be productive. No checking Facebook or Twitter. No researching and looking crap up as I write. Clickety-clickety-clack...don't talk smack. Aherm, yes, well, that kinda went off the rails. What were we talking about again? Oh right, writing productivity.
If I'm staring at a blank screen and the blinking cursor hypnotizes me into a gob-smacked brain stupor, I'm lucky to get 200 words on the page before its time to head back to the office.
On the other hand, if I've successfully thought about my story and sketched the thing out ahead of time like I'm supposed to, I can easily hit 1500 words during that lunch hour. For me, it really all depends on how PREPARED I am to write that day. More preps = more reps. No wait...that's evening gym time. Anyway, you know what I'm saying here.
"There's a secret that real writers know that wannbe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write." — Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
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I don't have any idea how many words per hour I can type. When I started writing I was using my index fingers to get my story written.
That was so slow I started using Dragon, a digital typing program. My word count went up considerably.
The problem that slowed the process down was misheard words. When you have to backup and fix the issue it slows the story down, making it hard to stay in the zone.
After one frustrating day I learned to type so I don't have to back up anymore. Writing is a lot more fun now.
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Posted by: @storysinger I don't have any idea how many words per hour I can type. When I started writing I was using my index fingers to get my story written. That was so slow I started using Dragon, a digital typing program. My word count went up considerably. The problem that slowed the process down was misheard words. When you have to backup and fix the issue it slows the story down, making it hard to stay in the zone. After one frustrating day I learned to type so I don't have to back up anymore. Writing is a lot more fun now.
I've heard of Dragon dictation. Some writers have tremendous success with it. I tried it once. The good news is I wrote about 800 words. The bad news is it was 800 words of phrases like, "No wait, that's not how it goes...What was I saying again?...Holy crap I can't even read that...What are those letters—is that even English?"
If I'm in a particularly fast writing mood, I can reasonably bang out about 100 words in 5 minutes, but if it's slow then it's 100 words in 15 minutes or so. I've never measured word count for an hour though.
@chezecaek , RETreasure put it best (and succinctly, compared to what follows). Find what works best for you. Resist the urge to judge yourself against others, as the negatives (longer-term stress at not measuring up) often erase what positives (a burst of initial productivity) may occur. But if you feel you write "slowly," how can you find out whether writing "fast" works for you?
When I started writing (NaNo 2019), I tapped out between 800-1000 words per hour (WPH) of non-outlined fiction. Two hours of writing per day, every day, notched a NaNo "win". Yay. Cue confetti. By May of 2020, I had doubled my speed, which I maintain as an average now. Two specific books helped me iteratively improve my process. They are: Chris Fox, 5000 Words Per Hour (full disclosure, I’ve never come close to that), and Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k . Of the two, Fox's helped me the most in terms of writing faster.
Three important factors to writing speed:
- Typing speed
- Thinking speed
- Time spent editing, correcting
Potential solutions to these factors:
- Take typing courses (I didn’t do this; I type no faster than I did two years ago).
- Spend 5 minutes thinking about your scene beforehand. Write notes, block beats.
- Don't edit, delete, correct, fix anything. Move your cursor forward, never backward. Don't use "delete." (By far the hardest)
I like to think of writing pace like jogging pace. Most people cannot run a fast, steady pace for two hours the first time they lace up their shoes. It takes training. Building up from short to long distances. Perhaps more importantly, running faster may or may not equate to enjoyment. If I pass out before reaching the finish line, or miss my family waving from the sideline because my eyes are blurry and stinging from sweat, or if I spend the rest of my post-race day yarking oatmeal and banana while fighting off hamstring cramps…well, it’s the entire process that needs to work for me, not just the running of one race.
Writing speed is no different. I started small; five minute blocks. I thought about a scene for five minutes, then wrote for five minutes without stopping. I still do this, and sometimes it's five, sometimes it's twenty. Call it a "plotting brainstorm session" for a panster. It helped sharpen my focus on a goal for my writing, which was often all I needed to get going. And the delete button? The delete button was and is my enemy. It took a long, long time for me to eliminate delete button usage. Weeks. A spelling and grammar check before submission is wise and recommended, but why bother doing it while I write? Slashing an entire block of text during revisions doesn't give back the time I spent polishing that section's spelling and grammar. My perfectionist brain struggled until I compromised (with myself, yes) to run a spell-check directly after every writing sprint. After a while, it made a big difference in speed (and it kept me in the dream state for longer blocks of time). Do I submit error-laden stories? No way. (I hope not.) I just don't worry about it when I draft.
Does this guarantee a more enjoyable writing process? No. Tracking words and not pausing for thought might strangle creativity. In that case, it might be a case of been-there, done-that, thank you, next. I don't think any of us want to lose our sense of joy or creativity in the process. I believe that's the most valuable part of this whole writing thing, anyway.
In the end, I believe faster / higher WPH only measures faster drafting. Improving my speed was a way for me to purge all (okay, some…okay, maybe a tenth…) of my bad words so I could mine the good ones. They're down deep. I probably should check if fracking is an option for writers, maybe then I'll publish something. Writing faster was a way for me to get ideas on the page and to not grind over one story for years.
I went through periods where my WPH seemed to matter more than good story or finished / submitted manuscripts. When that happened, I stepped back and wrote slower. I did exercises (from Ursula K. LeGuin’s Steering the Craft , among others) which made me think and ponder and play while I wrote. For me, writing speed has little to do with the quality of my writing. I don't sound like a genius when I write slowly, I'm not illegible when I burn through a draft. This may be a good thing or it may be a bitter condemnation of my abilities. Only through writing a lot and studying have I (hopefully) improved my prose and storytelling.
For others, faster writing may not even reduce the time from idea to submission. As MrH mentions above, this idea of “writing speed” rarely (or never) considers time spent revising. My revision process is still a work in progress. It is molasses-slow, but that is regardless of whether I've written a slow first draft or a quick one. In that way, writing faster first drafts has helped speed up my overall process. Or that's what I tell myself so I don't crawl into my closet and whimper in the dirty laundry.
John Steinbeck wrote Grapes of Wrath longhand over five months, 2000 words a day, but what went on the page, in general, stayed on the page. Stephen King wrote The Running Man in about two weeks. Robert Silverberg says he has published over 25 million words in his lifetime. Frank Herbert wrote Dune over a period of years. Does writing fast matter in the end? In terms of quality, or success, I don’t think so. But for writers who have limited time, one of the potential pitfalls of writing may be the time it takes to finish something . That’s where writing faster may help. The world doesn’t get to experience an unfinished novel or story, and someone is out there waiting for yours. So whether you write a hundred words a day or 2000 an hour, please keep writing.
Best of luck.
In a three-hour stretch on a recent Saturday afternoon I knocked out 500 words, so 167 / hr. That resulted in a nearly-finished scene, edited, thought-out, and written so as to fit in its place in the story and accomplish its goal. The scene later filled-out to 730 words.
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It seems to me very stupid to set some kind of framework, because we are all different and everyone writes differently, but if everything is bad with writing, then there are good services that will gladly help you
Susan, I completely agree with you, it is easy for someone to write and this person can write 2 thousand words in an hour, and someone cannot write 100 words in an hour, I am more of the second type of people, and writing is hard work for me
Posted by: @gary @susan-737 Susan, I completely agree with you, it is easy for someone to write and this person can write 2 thousand words in an hour, and someone cannot write 100 words in an hour, I am more of the second type of people, and writing is hard work for me
But if you never ask, you never know. Knowing you're uber-faster than average may explain your numerous mistakes. Knowing you're super-slower may inspire you to try new techniques.
Posted by: @susan-737 It seems to me very stupid to set some kind of framework, because we are all different and everyone writes differently
I think it’s all really just knowing how you write, when you write best, at what speeds you can work productively, etc. Getting to know yourself as a writer is important so you can understand where your current limitations and weaknesses are. That way you can push past yourself and improve over time. Stephen Covey once said, “Where performance is measured, performance improves.” Imagine being a long-distance runner and having no idea what your pace times are. Can’t get better if you don’t know where you are.
Posted by: @morgan-broadhead I've heard of Dragon dictation. Some writers have tremendous success with it. I tried it once. The good news is I wrote about 800 words. The bad news is it was 800 words of phrases like, "No wait, that's not how it goes...What was I saying again?...Holy crap I can't even read that...What are those letters—is that even English?"
Respectfully: If you’ve tried it once, you haven’t tried it. It took me three months to get productive, a year to get good. Today? 54,000 words in a month is not uncommon.
I was forced to stick with it in order to make use of two hours of commute each day. It started really awkwardly. It got better.
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Posted by: @morgan-broadhead I think it’s all really just knowing how you write, when you write best, at what speeds you can work productively, etc. Getting to know yourself as a writer is important so you can understand where your current limitations and weaknesses are. That way you can push past yourself and improve over time. Stephen Covey once said, “Where performance is measured, performance improves.” Imagine being a long-distance runner and having no idea what your pace times are. Can’t get better if you don’t know where you are.
I’ve been tracking the data for a year now, and it’s eye-opening.
If I dictate during my morning or afternoon commute, I dictate 25-30 words per minute. (But I once hit 100 wpm on my morning commute. Pure inspiration!)
If I dictate on almost any other trip: 30-40 wpm. Maybe traffic is more risky during the commute?
If I dictate on my treadmill: 45-55 wpm. And I burn 500 calories in an hour!
If I dictate in a quiet room, sitting still with NO distractions: 60-65 wpm.
Obviously the quiet room works best IF I can arrange no distractions. Usually I can’t. When I’m on the treadmill or driving, I’m forced to ignore email, Facebook, etc.
Knowing these numbers helps me plan ahead.
I definitely have some research to do and some equipment/apps to purchase to get myself set up productively. Several of us have been discussing best practices/equipment. Just purchased On Being a Dictator , so I'm hoping that will help me out.
Just to chip in my notes here, I am aware of how much I can write. When I know exactly where my writing is going, when I have no distractions, and when I'm just hitting it, my general typing word-count hits between 1,500 and 2,000 words an hour. That's quite rare, however, and I've learned not to really judge myself on how much I write, but more on simply whether I write.
For example, yesterday, I spent an evening thinking through some scenes that I wanted to write, and wrote exactly zero words of any of them. Tonight, I worked on the first of those, and wrote 1,100 words in 45 minutes, which is close to that 1,500 words an hour. But I couldn't write those words without first having written none. And sometimes, my writing is more exploratory. This scene was active, in part a chase, which had an easy dynamic to follow. Other scenes are more careful and thoughtful, and may require a lot more. I've had other times when I found it a slog to get out 500 words in an hour. Generally, if it drops below that level, though, I'm not feeling any sense of flow with my writing, and I'm likely not enjoying it, or finding it at all rewarding. I'll usually break from it and return later, in the hopes that the gears will click the next time.
That actually touches on my feelings about dictation, I keep thinking about trying it, as I've been intrigued by the idea of how well it might work--but I've come to suspect that my underlying blocker with it is not so much a sense of whether it would work, but rather whether I would enjoy it. I'm not naturally someone who likes to story-tell. When my wife'll say tell me a story, I'm almost immediately at a loss. I know people who can sit around a table and share stories for hours on end without seeming to pause for breath, but my brain doesn't get into that gear very naturally.
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How Long Does It Take to Write 400 Words?
Writing 400 words will take about 10 minutes for the average writer typing on a keyboard and 20 minutes for handwriting. However, if the content needs to include in-depth research, links, citations, or graphics such as for a blog article or high school essay, the length can grow to 1.3 hours.
Documents that typically contain 400 words are high school and college essays , short blog posts, and news articles.
You may write faster or slower than this depending on your average writing speed. Adults typically type at about 40 words per minute when writing for enjoyment and 5 words per minute for in-depth essays or articles. They can handwrite at 20 words per minute. College students typically need to be able to write at 60-70 words per minute in order to quickly write essays.
Writing Time by Word Counts
The table below will tell you how long it will take to write typical word counts. If you want to know how long writing an essay or book will take, check out the table below:
Writing Time by Page Counts
The table below will tell you how long it will take to write typical page counts. If you want to know how long writing an essay or book will take, check out the table below:
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