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Michael Long is a speechwriter, author, educator, and award-winning screenwriter and playwright.

For keynotes, speechwriting, corporate education, and ghostwriting, contact Mike.


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How to Write Faster...er

In which your correspondent shows you the accelerator

Critic Terry Teachout put it this way:  “Only writers believe that writing is really, truly work.” Everybody thinks he can write, because everybody has composed a grocery list. Yet writing for a purpose—coming up with a memo, a speech, a brochure, a novel—is a job, and the outcome is superior only when you treat it like a job.
We often try to improve our writing, but we rarely try to learn to write faster, yet that is a kind of improvement, too. It makes our resources go further, and makes us feel better about our abilities. Give me enough time and I can always improve the product, but creating something in a hurry, or at least quicker than normal, demands skills beyond patience. It takes tricks and techniques, like getting the turkey cooked all the way to the bone, or talking Suzy into going to the prom when she’s expecting an appeal from a Zac Efron lookalike.


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Therefore, here are four tricks and techniques to help you write faster:
Work in short bursts. Set a timer for 10 minutes or so—never more than 20—and bear down. During that brief period, think less, write more. After the timer goes off, give yourself a three- to five-minute break. Listen to music. Surf the Internet. Look at your email. Just don’t write. Then reset the timer and do it again. A short deadline and a demand for concentration cause you to really produce. When we work “all day” on something, we drift in and out of paying attention, and in and out of getting things done. In a focused ten minutes, you can produce what would otherwise get done in an unfocused hour.
Turn off the music. You may think you work better with music, but you don’t. Good writing, especially business and speechwriting with their explanations and persuasion, requires cold, hard thought. That requires silence. This is more than just opinion; think about how the brain works. Every stimulus requires processing, and music is stimulation. Background music—especially anything with words or musical complexity or a hook—becomes an ongoing distraction from the task at hand. Listening to music while you’re writing may make you feel more productive, but that’s only because it’s giving you some relief from your single-minded concentration:  feeling better does not mean writing better and it never means writing faster. You will still have to think things through, and putting that off for the sake of a song means more time.
Treat perfection like the enemy. The hardest part of writing fast is getting something—anything—on paper. By torturing yourself over the first draft, you reduce how much of that important foundational work you get done. Besides, the refinement you attempt at this early stage is often wasted. Why? It turns out that writing is thinking, and thinking often leads you to remove passages you wrote in the beginning. This of course can reduce all that early filigree to wasted time. So just keep writing and clean up things later.
If there are phrases or ideas that must appear in the piece, write them down before you begin and check them off as you go. We often think of what belongs in a piece, even down to a phrase, then promise ourselves that we will keep it in mind when we write. That's not enough. If there are things you want in the piece -- or, better, that the client wants in the piece -- write them down, word for word. When the time comes to write, treat it like a checklist. You'll end up with a stronger piece, a more confident sense of when it's finished, and a happier client. Simply put, make a list of the important stuff and make sure you get it all in there.

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Burke, VA  22015
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