Fast and Furious Fiction: How to Write More Quickly

Doug Landsborough
April 23, 2024

Let’s be real, writing a novel is a big undertaking. Even the shortest books are around 50,000 words long, and some of the longer fantasy epics are in the hundreds of thousands of words. And sometimes those are part of a series spanning three, five, or even a dozen books.

While we love writing those words (or else why would we even be authors in the first place?), manuscripts like those can take a long time to finish.

I don’t have any tricks to make those words magically appear, but I have some tips for writing them more quickly. That includes:

  • Understanding the psychology of writing quickly
  • Managing your time
  • Writing techniques to speed up your wordsmithing

To be clear, this article is about writing quickly but still writing well. We aren’t just puking words up on a page and hoping something legible appears. It takes practice to get good at writing fast, but putting in the work makes a world of difference in your work and, if you want it, your author career.

Understanding the Psychology Behind Writing Speed

Let me first start this section by saying that you don’t need to write as fast as possible. If you take five or ten years to write your first and only book, I am still happy for you and proud of you.

But if you landed on this article and read beyond the introduction, I assume you want to write quickly. Before we get to techniques, I want to equip you with some of the information behind what makes speed writing successful or, more often what people experience, unsuccessful.

But we’re aiming for above average here, right? At least in words written per hour.

Common Challenges Writers Face

Let’s acknowledge some of the barriers most writers face when we try to get those words down faster. These are pretty universal challenges, and we’ll address ways to overcome them as we move through this article.

Perfectionism - Many writers struggle with the need to make every sentence perfect before moving on, which can slow your writing to a crawl—and stress you the heck out.

Writer’s block - A common challenge where writers find it difficult to produce new work due to a lack of inspiration or creativity.

Distractions - External (social media, noise) and internal distractions (self-doubt, anxiety) can disrupt any momentum you build and reset your writing pace.

Time management - Finding dedicated time blocks for writing without interruptions can be challenging, especially with competing personal and professional responsibilities, but it can pay off big time.

Fatigue - Mental or physical exhaustion can impair your ability to focus and write efficiently.

Hopefully you’re already thinking about ways you can overcome these common challenges, but I’m not done giving you the heads-up about what we’re working against (that’s the gentlest way I could find to say there are other challenges to writing quickly).

Psychological Barriers to Writing Quickly

While the previous section shed some light on common obstacles, here are a few mental hurdles you might run into while writing—quickly or not.

Fear of failure - Worrying about criticism or not meeting expectations can paralyze the writing process.

Overthinking - Getting caught up in details or potential plot developments can turn your ideas into a blank page.

Lack of confidence - Doubting one’s writing ability can lead to procrastination and avoiding writing altogether.

Comparison with others - Comparing your writing speed or quality with others can be utterly demotivating.

Unreasonable expectations - Setting unrealistic standards for your writing output can ultimately lead to disappointment and reduced motivation.

That’s a big ol’ pile of awful barriers that, admittedly, I’m all too familiar with and you might be, too. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. We have one more stop on this psychological train, which is actually the start of our journey to upping your words per hour.

The Importance of the Right Mindset

If you want to write as quickly as my dog runs down the stairs for food, you need to get yourself in the right mindset. This isn’t as easy as flipping a switch or just “choosing” to adopt these ideas.

But they will come over time as you practice them.

Understanding growth - When you accept (and truly believe) writing is just like any skill that can improve in quality and output with practice, it will bolster your persistence and resilience.

Setting realistic goals - Establishing achievable writing goals can boost your confidence and keep you motivated. Outlandish goals do the opposite.

Positive reinforcement - Celebrating small achievements not only keeps you motivated but actually makes you more productive. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to celebrate small wins. I’ve gotten in the habit of buying a fancy coffee every time I finish the first draft of a chapter and I love it.

Routine and discipline - Developing a consistent writing schedule helps form habits and reduces your reliance on inspiration or perfect scenarios.

Mental preparedness - This looks different for different people. Meditation, music, a candle with a nice scent, a comfy writing chair, a particular location—do something regularly to get your mind in the writing zone to amp up that word rate.

Okay, that’s everything you need to know about why writing quickly isn’t easy and what we need to start thinking about to change that. Now let’s get into the specifics.

Time Management Techniques for Writers

I used to deny it (maybe out of sheer optimism), but I had a massive time management problem. I don’t know what it is, but I struggle to accomplish things without a looming deadline.

As an indie author whose only real deadlines are self-imposed, this is a huge problem.

And, if you’re trying to write quickly, poor time management is a problem for you, too. Not handling your time properly can reduce your productivity, increase your stress, and result in writing words you hate.

Luckily, managing your time well does the opposite (which, for the record, is a good thing).

Easier said than done, though, right? Most of us don’t have the privilege of writing books being our primary source of income; we have to balance families, hobbies, jobs, cleaning the house, walking the dog, getting groceries, cooking those groceries, studying, visiting friends, and more.

And somehow we have to find time for writing in there. Don’t worry, though. We can.

Preparing to Manage Your Time Well

Before we get into the particulars about becoming a Time Lord, let’s get ourselves in the right place. I need you to understand a couple things about yourself so we can set you up for success.

  1. Your peak productivity periods - Figure out when you have the most mental energy and output your best work. Are you an early bird, a night owl, or a lunch… loon? This doesn’t mean you can only write during these times, but writing when you’re at your best can maximize your word output.
  2. Set realistic goals - I’ve already mentioned this twice, but trying to run before you walk is going to lead to disappointment and burnout. If you want to be a time management expert, we must be realistic about what we can do in that time.

You’re the only one who can figure out when your productivity is at its highest. If you don’t—or if you just want to check—try writing at different times throughout the next week. Keep track of which times feel best.

For goal setting, either start low based on past experience or conduct a little experiment for me. Over the next couple days, do some writing sprints (which we’ll touch on later). Keep track of how many words you write and how long each sprint is—pro tip: Dabble does this automatically if you activate writing sprints.

Then figure out your average “words per hour” rate, as coined by Chris Fox. Use this formula:

Total words written/(total minutes written/60)

So, for example, if I wrote 1,500 words in 45 minutes of writing, it would look like this:

1,500/(45/60) = 1,500/0.75 = 2,000 words per hour.

Why is this important for goal setting? Because I can then take this and say that a reasonable 15-minute writing goal might be 500, but 1,000 is unlikely.

I know you didn’t sign up for math, but that’s an easy way to figure out what constitutes a realistic goal. And, once you know that, you can use Dabble’s built-in goal setting tools to figure out a realistic timeline for your novel.

The Most Important Thing to Understand About Writing Quickly

One last thing I want to make clear about time management and writing quickly in general is this one simple statement:

The more you write, the faster you will become.

That’s probably the most important takeaway from this article and why time management is so important. If you can make time to write regularly, your writing speed will naturally increase. Keep that in mind as I slowly turn you into a word-producing monster.

How to Manage Your Writing Time

Listen, I understand how hard it can be to squeeze in writing time. That’s why the basis of time management, at least for us wordsmiths, is important even beyond your writing speed.

Fixing poor time management isn’t easy, nor is it a one-size-fits-all solution. So let’s chat about some ways you can find your solution.

Use a calendar - I resisted this for a while, but it has been a game changer. Just use whatever calendar app or desk calendar you normally use. Use it not just for writing but to identify places when you can write.

Block time - On that calendar, block out some time for writing. In an ideal world, it’s the same time every day (or every other day—we need to manage our time, not force it, so do what works for your schedule). Science tells us habit building comes from regular repetition, and choosing the same time each day leans into that.

Batch your tasks - Maximize your most productive times to do the thing we’re here for: writing. There is a lot more that goes into being an author—marketing, researching, editing, community management, and more that you can learn about on DabbleU—but batch those together and get them done when you aren’t in peak writing mode.

Go rogue - Alternatively, just be willing to write whenever you have a minute to spare. Author Michael La Ronn was working full-time while raising a family and in law school and managed to exceed his goal of writing 10 books in his lifetime by writing 10 books in a year simply by using his phone on the subway, during lunch, when he had five minutes in the car, etc.

I’m not saying you need to aim for 10 books in one year to consider yourself successful, nor do I think it’s realistic to think most people can do that while working and in school. But it’s not impossible to write when you can as a way to optimize your time rather than look for perfect moments.

Pre-Writing Preparation

If it isn’t clear by now, training to become a speedy writer starts before you write a single word. And we’re not done with that just yet. We’ve talked psychology, we understand how to manage our time properly, and now it’s time to look at the time leading up to your writing.

This ranges from weeks to minutes before you start typing, but I promise it’s worth it.

Outline to Smooth Out the Road

I know some writers will see the word “outline” and feel the hair on their arms stand up. Listen, I’m not saying you have to be a Snowflake Method-level plotter, but having some sort of outline will empower you to write more quickly.

Outlining your story, to a level you’re comfortable with, provides some framework and structure as you approach the blank page. At the bare minimum, you know what your current scene is about, who is in it, where it takes place, and why it matters in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can outline in more granular detail—just don’t feel confined by your outline, or those restraints might slow you down.

The idea is that your outline provides as much detail as you need to say, “This is what I’m writing without meandering too far off the path.” When you do the work ahead of time, it means you don’t need to pause to think about where to go next. You can let your momentum not only crank those words out but help you come up with ideas within that framework you never thought of before.

Establish Your Pre-Writing Ritual

Now we’re talking about the moments leading up to your writing sessions. I’m no psychologist or behavioral scientist, but it’s a fairly well-known (or at least widely accepted) fact that familiarity and repetition can train your brain to adopt a particular mindset.

Which is a fancy way of saying that doing the same thing before you write, writing in the same place, and using other familiar cues can all lead you to get in a better author headspace.

And that means, over time, writing more quickly.

We call this a pre-writing ritual because it is something you do again and again, rarely deviating from the norm. What you do to prepare for writing will be individual to you, but it might include:

  • A particular workspace - A desk, kitchen table, café, etc. Just keep your body’s health in mind (meaning beds and couches aren’t ideal, especially for longer writing sessions). I advise against unique workspaces that aren’t regularly accessible to you.
  • A warm-up routine - Writing exercises, prompts, journaling, revising previous work, and so on. Something to get your creative muscles limber.
  • A time of day - We touched on this before. Maximize your productivity by writing when is best for you.
  • External triggers - Sensory triggers like music, scents, a particular cardigan, slippers, your favorite warm beverage, etc. Don’t underestimate how powerfully auditory, tactile, and olfactory elements can affect your mindset.

Again, this isn’t some new-age thing. The more prompts you can give your mind to tell it, “Hey, we’re about to start writing,” the better.

Personally, my pre-writing ritual starts at 7:45am after a lovely morning walk with my pup. I take my time making some coffee, light a candle (I’m absolutely adoring a French café candle right now), sit at my kitchen table, and put a banger of a Naruto lo-fi playlist on. Then the words just flow.

Usually, anyway.

Is a pre-writing ritual necessary? No, of course not. And I don’t want you to get into a mindset where you can use a lack of your ritual as an excuse to not be able to write.

But it is a proven way to hack your creativity and make writing easier and faster.

Writing Techniques for Speed and Efficiency

I want to emphasize once more that having a goal of increasing your writing speed should never come at the expense of your writing quality. That’s not the point, and I want you to keep it in mind when you’re reading through the following techniques to buff your words per hour.

Admittedly, there will be some trade-offs when you go from writing 500 words in a couple hours to 500 words in 15 minutes, but those will be small typos or so-so adverbs you will catch while revising. So, if that happens, don’t stress. But if you end up writing “Joe got out of bed. Joe put on his slippers. Joe made his coffee. Joe was already sleepy,” then it might be that whatever technique you’re trying isn’t for you—at least not right now.

So check out some of these plans to up your writing speed and see if any jive with you.

Writing Sprints

Inspired by the Pomodoro method and a personal favorite of mine, writing sprints are timed writing sessions where you focus solely on getting words down without worrying about editing or perfection. These can range from short bursts (10-25 minutes) to longer sessions, depending on your focus and endurance. You then take a short break (5-10 minutes) after a sprint before doing it again.

Writing sprints can help overcome procrastination, boost creativity by forcing rapid thought processes, and significantly increase word count in a short period. They’re also great for building a writing habit and improving discipline.

My suggestions? Set a clear goal for each sprint, use a timer, and minimize distractions (put your phone far away from you).

Pro tip: Dabble has a built-in writing sprint function that tracks and encourages you to beat your most recent sprint word count.

Structured Freewriting

Writing sprints aren’t for everyone, I get that. Heck, some days they aren’t even for me. Rather than getting as many words down as possible in a certain timeframe, instead think about aiming for a particular goal and writing towards it.

With structured freewriting, you choose something to aim for (say a word count, a scene, or a chapter) that gives you an idea to focus on while letting the words flow out of that creative mind of yours.

This is particularly effective when you aren’t 100% sure what you want to write and need to do a little exploring. Not meandering, mind you, but structured questing.

It’ll be slow at first. But the more you do it, the more you’ll find that a certain amount of flexibility gives you mental space to write faster.

Pro tip: Dabble helps you separate your manuscript into scenes and chapters, each with their own dedicated notes so you don’t have to waste time looking up any of your planning or character sketches.

The Zero Draft Approach

This technique can be paired with sprints or freewriting, but the whole point is to write your first draft as quickly as possible without spending a microsecond worrying about self-editing, polish, or even coherence.

All that might sound counterintuitive, especially to new authors. But the point is that the story is in your head and you’re leveraging momentum above all else to get it out.

It is incalculably easier to edit and refine words than it is to generate them in the first place, at least for some people. If you find you’re one of those people, a zero draft approach might work for you.

Daily Word Count Goals (Plus Reflection)

I couldn’t survive without having some goal to aim for, and daily word count goals are an excellent one that consistently improves my writing speed.

Here’s the deal: use the word per hour formula from before to set a daily word count goal. Sit down and don’t move until you hit it. Lock the distractions away. Use a timer to record how long it takes you to hit that goal each day and actually write the time and word-per-hour rate down somewhere.

Then reflect on what went right or wrong. Were you faster or slower? Did you notice the stuff you were writing was particularly great or awful?

Over time, if you’re consistent, your writing speed will improve. That’s how practice works. Couple this with sprints or freewriting for a one-two punch.

Pro tip: Dabble lets you set a daily writing goal and can even make one for you based on your target word count for your manuscript, chapter, or scene, and when you want to finish it by.

Writing a Novel is a Marathon

And like marathons, it requires training. I can walk a marathon (goodness that would be long), but if I wanted to not spend an absurdly long time finishing it, I need to train to be faster. I would also need to work on my endurance.

A novel is very similar, which is great for this metaphor. It is a big undertaking that requires many, many hours to finish. You can spend years getting it done or you can train yourself to write faster and finish it in months, even weeks.

Writing quickly is just one aspect of writing a book, though. You need to understand plot structure, character development, conflict, theme, pacing, flow, tone, voice, relationships, dialogue…

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to get you down. Safe to say, there’s a lot that goes into being a good author. And that’s where DabbleU comes in.

We have more than 400 articles covering the craft of writing that you can read for free. It can cost you absolutely nothing to become a storytelling expert, and you can even sign up for our non-spammy newsletter to get the latest and greatest articles sent right to your inbox.

Speaking of free, you can give Dabble a shot for two weeks for zero dollars and zero cents. You don’t even need to put in your credit card info, so no surprise charge. Now go take everything you’ve learned here and let Dabble help you write faster.

Doug Landsborough

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.