by Neil Hayes

If you’re a writer, you’ve heard the question: Do you ever get writer’s block?

My answer is always the same: Writer’s block is for hobbyists. When your livelihood depends on making words appear on a page, the question changes: Do you ever get paycheck block?

I didn’t think so.

That’s not to say some assignments aren’t easier than others. Words may fly onto your screen one day. The next, as late journalist Gene Fowler once said: “You stare at a blank [computer screen] until drops of blood appear on your forehead.”

Regardless, you pound it out because – for pros – there’s no alternative.

I’ve never been one to think writing was “fun,” either, although it beats shingles, I guess. For me, writing becomes “fun” when I’m finished.

Therefore, the faster I finish the more fun it is. The faster I finish, the more assignments I can start and then finish, leading to more fun and more paychecks … which begs a more important question: How can I write faster?

Since writing fast usually means you’ve got a tight timeline, let’s extend this thought to:

How to write fast under pressure?

I was a sportswriter for 25 years, which requires sending a first-edition story the instant a game ends. That requires fast writing. Twenty thousand fans are screaming, facts keep changing, editors are tapping their feet and checking their watches and whatever you write, however good or bad, will end up on 350,000 doorsteps.

That’s pressure, or at least it was for me.

Like anything else, writing fast can become a routine if you do it frequently enough. Here are the top 3 tips I’ve learned for writing fast – as if your pants are on fire, for those days when the pressure is so great, they may as well be.

1. Prepare.

You have to spend a lot of time preparing before you can write fast.

As a sportswriter, if I was covering a night event, I would spend all day doing research and making notes. I would know how to spell everyone’s name, for example, and I would keep reference material at hand so I could find things quickly when the ticking clock starts sounding like Big Ben.

Know your general approach to whatever you need to write before you even start.

I would have a skeleton outline scribbled on a scrap of paper to use as a general guide.

I also always like to have the first three paragraphs in my head.

Then comes the “nut” paragraph that explains the central idea and/or why you’re writing the piece in the first place. Everything that comes after should support that paragraph. That’s your middle.

Finally, you need to know where you’re going to end up or how you’re going to end. In my opinion, your ending is almost as important as your opening. It’s what readers remember.

I also think about tone beforehand. Do I want this to be a light, airy and easily-readable piece or is it a heavy, serious, thought-provoking topic?

Be prepared, but be flexible, too, particularly if you find a better approach mid-way through – which often happens once your fingers start moving.

2. Lower your expectations.

I am not in any way suggesting you submit substandard work. However, if you have to crank out a finished, polished piece in a limited amount of time, you may not have the luxury of making sure every word is perfect.

When time is of the essence, concentrate on raising your floor instead of your ceiling.

That doesn’t mean your work shouldn’t be a rock-solid reflection of your professional abilities. But don’t try to experiment. Save that imaginative approach (that may or may not work) for when you aren’t under the gun.

Keep it simple. Write. Short. Sentences.

3. Concentrate.

Louis L’Amour, author of 105 novels and short story collections, once said: “I could sit in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and write with my typewriter on my knees; temperamental I am not.”

I couldn’t agree more. Years of pounding out copy under ridiculous deadlines in ear-bleeding arenas and stadiums taught me to focus.

What’s writer’s block, after all, but allowing yourself to succumb to distractions? You don’t have time for outside influences when writing on a tight deadline. You need a laser focus, which requires blocking out all potential interruptions.

If you work at home and have kids, good luck with that. I used to wear a special hat when I was on deadline so mine would know that, while I might be home, I wasn’t available to make pancakes, admire a drawing or settle a skirmish.

If you’re in an office, put on a sign on your door for all but your boss: Bug off.

I considered starting a stopwatch before I started writing this post. Including the precise amount of time it took me to write this could’ve made for a cute ending.

Then I thought of another question writers are frequently asked: How long does it take you to write (fill in the blank)?

My answer is always the same: How much time do I have?

Culled from Clariant Creative

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