Tips and Tools for Better, Faster Writing

I’ve been writing here at Techerator for over a year, but only recently have I decided to take steps to improve my writing and time efficiency. You probably know the drill: sit down at your desk, check out Twitter, open your word editor, Tweet something, check out Facebook, decide on a title, Facebook about how hard it is to write, go reward yourself with a cup of coffee, I wonder what’s on CNN…

We can do better than this. Without the massive amount of distractions inherent to the Internet our writing has more substance and fewer errors. Writing can be such a joy, but it’s so easy to get off track — how can we sweep away the distractions and get the best version of our content on the page quickly? Here are a few tips and tools that have cut my typical write time in half, and I like to think these tricks have made my writing better as well.

1. Do your research before you start writing

This seems like a no-brainer, but I think a lot of people (myself included) ignore this very basic concept. Until recently, I had a tab in my browser dedicated to my WordPress post editor and I would rapidly switch back and forth typing a sentence or two at a time as I figured out what I planned to say.

Grab a notebook (you know, that old paper version of the internet) and jot down your ideas as you’re reading. Collect all of the images you plan to use, and formulate an outline on paper. After 15-20 minutes of dedicated reading and establishing your position on a topic, you’ll be amazed how prepared you feel to write. When we have a solid stance on something, our natural instinct is to share that feeling.

2. Use BreakTaker

You need to take breaks while you’re working. It’s easy to get sucked into your project and forget to stretch, sit up straight, or even breath properly — this costs you productivity, and more of it than you’d expect. Techerator’s own Evan Wondrasek created a useful tool called BreakTaker that will remind you to take a break at user-defined intervals and offer suggestions for your 60-second breather. Set it up and use it. Evan is working on a feature that will kick you in the groin if you ignore your BreakTaker.

3. Eliminate the distractions and write… JUST WRITE

This is the meat of my argument, and trust me, eliminating your distractions will make writing so fast that you’ll be back to your Xbox in surprising time.

Here’s what you do: Gather your materials; you should have everything you need to complete your article. Disable your wi-fi and close your browser. Now, open your text editor… but screw your old text editor. If you’re running on a Mac, WriteRoom is the tool for you, and if you’re on Windows, Dark Room is almost the exact same thing.

WriteRoom and Dark Room are minimalistic editors that occupy your entire screen and allow you to fully engage your material. You can change the colors to fit your preferences, but seriously, green on black is so awesome I don’t know why you’d want to change it. Try these editors with the lights off — writing in a dark room is a technique some of the most successful bloggers use (like @arrington). Combine with headphones; now you’re big-time. With nothing else to draw your attention, you will absolutely blaze through your article.

4. Proof read with a partner

I know, this seems over the top —  but believe me, it is completely possible and makes a world of difference. If you’re a writer, you probably have writer friends, or at least writers that contribute to the same blog or newspaper. Coordinate with a writing partner to exchange articles at a specific time to quickly proof, edit, and offer notes for each other. It takes 10-15 minutes at most, and the perspective offered by a reader will improve your word choices, your story flow, and on rare occasion they’ll recommend that you scrap it… because sometimes we convince ourselves that total garbage is worth publishing. Get a buddy and your writing will be better and your editing much quicker. Your managing editor will thank you.

These tricks have helped me reduce my write time and improve the quality of my content, and if you’re diligent, they’ll work for you, too. Good luck out there, and if you have tips that work for you, please share them in the comments.

  • I have a 25-page paper coming up. I might just have to give this a try…