Many freelance writing jobs pay per project or per word. If you aren’t being paid hourly, toiling over every phrase or writing multiple drafts may not be worth it.
To become a six-figure freelancer, which is a lofty but attainable goal, you need to learn how to write quickly.
I’ve always been a quick writer.
I remember training an editorial assistant when I was editor of a trade magazine. The task was to re-write a press release to remove the fluff, filler, and hyperbole PR people tend to add – basically, to create a 250-word news report.
The assistant’s eyes went wide when I said I usually cranked out 10 of these per hour.
That’s when I realized not everyone writes as fast as I can.
Fortunately, nearly anyone with the inclination to become a freelance writer can learn how to write quickly by employing a few of these techniques and tactics I’ve picked up over the years.
Today, I regularly earn $50 to $150 per hour for my writing. Today, I wrote a 250-word blog post about social media tips in about 15 minutes and got paid $26.
Some content writers would turn up their nose at writing anything more than a tweet for a flat rate of $26.
But because I completed the task quickly, I earned $104/hour.
How many writers would say no to that hourly rate?
Follow these tips to increase your writing speed – without diminishing the quality of your work – and earn more money in less time.
7 Tips to Improve Your Writing Speed
Learn how to touch type
It’s imperative to start here.
You cannot learn how to write fast unless you can type fast.
I have to digress for a moment and point out that, obviously, typing fast is not the only skill involved in becoming a successful freelance writer.
When friends or family point out how fast I can type, as if that, alone, is what makes me a successful writer, I want to say, “Typing is not writing.”
But typing 70+ words per minute – or even the average person’s speed of 40 words per minute – definitely helps you to write faster.
If you can type 60 words per minute, you should be able to write 3,600 words an hour, theoretically.
But if you can average 1,000 to 2,000 words per hour, including research time, outlining, and editing, you can achieve a substantial hourly rate for your freelance writing work.
I always believed in doing my research, writing my article, perfecting my headline, doing a quick copyedit and proofread, and then hitting send on my final piece.
Then a colleague of mine shared a secret with me. Now, every article I write is the length my client wants.
You can do the same if you follow this technique.
For this article, I knew I wanted to share seven or eight tips for writing faster. And I knew I wanted the article to be about 1,500 words.
So I took out my calculator. Because, math. (And I’m a writer…)
I reserved about 200 words for the introduction and 100 for the conclusion since that’s what I usually write. Then I divided what’s left by the number of tips.
So, 1,150 divided by 7 = 156
Before I even started, I knew I needed seven tips of about 160 to 165 words.
My first tip was 145 words, which is a little short. But the next one made up for it with my mathematical example. `
Before I started writing, I outlined the tips, found online resources, and copied and pasted the links I knew I wanted to include, which also helped me save time by getting all my research done upfront.
If your editor gives you a strict word count, this formula will help ensure you don’t have to spend a lot of time editing or cutting your content.
And if you have a bit more leeway, keeping your final word count in mind will keep you from rambling on longer than necessary.
After all, if you’re only being paid for 1,500 words, you don’t want to spend time writing 2,000, because time is money.
(Writer’s note: This article ran a little longer than planned, but I followed the basic formula throughout.)
Stay Focused on your Topic
We’ve all gotten lost down the proverbial “research rabbit hole” a few times.
Learning about different topics is part of what makes freelance writing fun and exciting. It is one of my favorite parts of the job.
But, as much as Google is our lifeblood, it can also be an occupational hazard.
Here’s an example:
Normally, I can write a 500-word piece in 20 to 30 minutes, researching my topic, writing my outline, and then getting the words on the screen. Maybe I’ll take another five minutes running it through Grammarly.
A few months ago, I wrote some articles about top New York City tourist attractions for a high-profile tour bus company.
I should have used Yelp and my own experience as a New Yorker to select the top five attractions for each article, written a few sentences on each, and finished the assignment quickly.
Instead, I compared venues extensively, asked my friends and family for their top picks, started planning a trip to Chinatown with a foodie friend…
I got lost in a rabbit hole of my own making.
I had a blast completing those pieces, but I spent two hours on each $35 article.
That is not the way to become a six-figure freelancer.
Every once in a while, you’ll have a project that excites you so much, you’ll want to spend some extra time researching.
Maybe you can even apply the information to your own life.
In general, stay focused and research only as much as you need for an article, or you risk getting lost in Google-land as your hourly rate drops by the minute.
Eliminate Interviews (Or, at Least, Get Paid for Them)
Any form of research threatens to be a huge time-suck when you’re trying to write efficiently.
The fastest articles are written based on personal experience.
But if you want to make money as a freelancer, you probably want to branch out beyond covering only topics you know by heart.
The most efficient content writers I know do not do face-to-face or phone interviews. They look for work that requires internet research only, or perhaps a quick email interview.
If you have to include quotes from experts, keep your conversation short and targeted.
Sometimes, you get the opportunity to interview a truly fascinating individual, and the next thing you know, he’s dragged you into hearing his life story.
And it’s sometimes nice to connect with someone in that way, especially for freelancers who spend most of their time working alone.
But in most cases, 90 percent of what your subject said won’t make it into your article, and you’ll be stuck combing through pages of notes to find the relevant bits.
Targeted interviews make for efficient writing.
If you can avoid interviews altogether, you’ll get more accomplished in a day.
If a client requires interviews, make sure the pay rate is higher than you would get for an article requiring internet research only, to account for the added time investment.
Google is just one of the many distractions writers face. Phone conversations are another.
But then there are those unnecessary distractions we create ourselves – social media, laundry, trips to the refrigerator or coffee machine.
There are also the distractions we allow into our space. Stopping to receive a package from Amazon delivery, a neighbor dropping in unexpectedly, a phone call from a friend all adds up quickly.
It takes workers an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after an interruption, according to a University of California – Irvine study.
That is time and money lost.
Breaks are a good, and necessary, part of work-at-home life.
Take scheduled breaks between articles. But when you sit down to write, finish the article and see your hourly word count rise.
Fellow Contena blogger Leila Mooney wrote a post where she shares some fantastic tips for dealing with distractions as a freelance writer.
Don’t Edit as You Write
Some distractions aren’t external at all. The compulsion to fix your work as you are writing can slow you down.
Most clients in need of content writing services aren’t looking for Pulitzer-quality material.
They want writing that is informative, engaging, SEO-friendly, and easy-to-understand.
Wasting time agonizing over the perfect turn-of-phrase can only slow you down.
By all means, if a sparkling simile or elegant alliteration comes to mind, include it.
But don’t waste time trying to create flowery prose.
Just share the information in a straightforward, concise, and compelling way.
Some writers find it easier to turn off their monitor while they type to resist the urge to edit.
You can also set a timer for 10, 15, or 20 minutes and vow not to stop typing until the timer goes off.
If You Get Stuck, Move On
Sometimes, you’ll be happily writing and realize you are missing an important fact or statistic.
Because any interruption can substantially slow down your writing time, skip over the missing fact and keep writing.
Professional journalists use the letters “TK” to indicate missing information, whether it is the correct spelling of a source’s name or a significant statistic to support a statement.
When you’re finished, do a search / replace for the letters “TK” and fill in your missing facts.
You can also use “TK” if you’re looking for a specific word and can’t think of it, or if you feel like there is potential to craft a more compelling phrase but the words aren’t coming to you.
You’ll be amazed how much time this small step can save.
Use a Grammar Checker to Perfect Your Piece
Once your article is complete, take the time to run it through grammar software such as Grammarly.
Knowing a grammar checker will be your final step makes it easier to leave less-than-perfect prose on the screen, since you know you can fix it later.
Many writers are still learning the rules of grammar and are prone to typos. Grammarly will walk you through your piece so you can get it right and learn as you go.
As your grammar improves, the faster it will be to review your work in Grammarly, because the software will spot fewer mistakes.
Earn More from Your Writing
As with any aspect of freelance writing, from negotiations to applying for freelance writing gigs, the more you write, the more comfortable you will get.
And your speed will continue to improve.
Being a fast writer enables you to take on lower-paying writing gigs while still earning a decent hourly rate, giving you an advantage over other writers.
Writers should always continue to negotiate for higher rates.
But until every client wants to pay .50 cents to $1 per word, learning how to write quickly will give you the advantage as you grow your freelance writing business.