This will sound ironic given my choice of side projects (publishing), college degree (history), and career (research analyst), but I loathe writing. I mean, isn’t it a great thing I found a path through life where this particular deficiency wasn’t a problem? <sarcasm>
My problem isn’t that I’m a bad writer but rather I’m slowwwww… I think too much. I try to write a basic cover letter and it somehow turns into a Supreme Court pleading about unlocking an iPhone.
So… I’ve been testing ways to write faster.
Writing: Where Your Time Really Goes…
My kids are at a point in school where they have to write a lot of small essays. We’ve been coaching them a lot. Just for fun, I tried a couple of these writing assignments myself with the kids watching, tracking my progress on a clock. It turns out we don’t actually “write” much when we’re “writing”… For example, look at this chart, based on some 5 paragraph essays.
Typical writing time per 5 paragraph essay was around 30 minutes. The quality was decent but not Shakespeare. Maybe good enough to post as blog content. Most of my time was spent trying figure out what to write next. Bear in mind, this was for very simple stuff: presenting and defending opinions based on public events. Technical content or stuff requiring actual research would take much longer.
The Template Test – Eliminate Uncertainty
Sadly, most of this thinking while writing doesn’t really add value. Regardless of how much time I spent thinking about the topic, the first thing I wrote down on paper was usually garbage. So what if we simplified things? Give a writer with a template based on structured questions and tell them to “fill in the blanks”. We put this to the test. A time trial, in front of an audience (my family) about a random topic that I had never written about before. Using this template, I was able to write a 469 word article in under 11 minutes. This represents a 63% improvement from my typical writing speed. The real surprise? I wrote a better essay this way. The template forced me to organize my thoughts and present them in a consistent manner. The well defined structure also helped focus my attention in the editing process.
Editing & Re-writing: Da Real MVP
In retrospect, editing time added the most value per minute in terms of overall article quality. If you have an extra five minutes, re-reading the article several times often results in a very nice lift in the quality of the final product. I usually edit one of two ways. The “basic tightening” and the “partial re-write”. “Basic tightening” consists of scanning the paragraph a couple of times and removing unnecessary words. The partial re-write restates the entire paragraph in a fresh voice. While more time consuming, it is usually far faster than the original draft. I’ll leave you on an uplifting note: “To Write Is Human, To Edit Divine”