What You Need to Become a Freelance Writer: The Need for Speed
Yes, you’ve got to have good grammar (or at least invest in a grammar checker!), a solid understanding of how to write the projects your clients will order, and of course you need the right mindset and go-get-it-iveness to fuel your prospecting activities as you get your business off the ground…
But what you need to become a freelance writer who makes GOOD MONEY, is speed.
Not that kind of speed, Zippy.
The faster you learn to write well, the more money you’ll make – it’s as simple as that. Good + Fast… BOTH are critical to your success as a freelancer.
The trouble is, most of us have a critical 6th-grade Language Arts teacher still rattling around in our minds, striking through our words before they ever spring from our fingertips’ touch of the keyboard. She’s the internal editor, and she’s got to go.
Here are some excellent tips I found and wanted to share with you.
1. Narrate, then write
Everyone is different, but most people can talk significantly faster than they can type. I’m talking 3-4 times as fast.
On top of that speed difference, consider how often you pause in the middle of writing because you lost your train of thought.
Then you have to take 10 seconds to figure out where you were headed and repeat that process every so often.
With speaking, there are no delays other than the speed of your thought.
What I’m advocating here is to speak general thoughts about your topic. If you can go through it in a general order, that’s even better.
Record the audio on any free recorder app on your phone, or use an online app.
Then, when you’ve said all of your thoughts on your topic, type up your recordings.
They don’t have to make perfect sense yet. Just write them down, and organize them into appropriate sections.
Once you’re done, you can do a thorough edit and fill in any gaps that are left.
I suggest trying this out a few times, and if you like it, keep using it.
An added bonus – writing becomes much “easier”: When you simply write your content, you’re always thinking about the length, overall quality, vocabulary, and so on.
On top of that, you’re thinking about what to write next.
When you narrate beforehand, you can solely focus on ideas and concepts. Then, you can focus on everything else as you’re editing. It makes writing much less intense and more enjoyable.
You can make this faster with tools: If you adopt this process, it should bring down your writing time by a bit and make it more fun.
However, if you’re really looking to minimize your writing time, a few tools can greatly speed up your writing time further.
First, consider hiring a virtual assistant (transcriptionist) to type up your narrations. Once you train them, it will save you a considerable amount of time for a small cost.
Next, you could also use more advanced narration tools to record your thoughts directly in a Word document.
Recently, Google Docs added a new feature for voice typing. Go to “Tools > Voice typing…” to enable it.
Next, click on the microphone icon that pops up. Once you do, it should turn orange to indicate that it’s listening.
From there, you can just speak, and the tool does a pretty amazing job at capturing your words. It’s not perfect, of course, but the technology has come a long way.
Don’t worry about correcting mistakes—you can do that later.
There are a few voice commands you’ll need; here’s a list of them.
2. Limit your time
According to Parkinson’s law,
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Even if you haven’t heard of it, I bet you’ve noticed it before.
When you have a week to write a post, it usually takes a week. You take extra time doing each part, not hurrying to finish early.
When you need to have a post finished tomorrow, you get right on it in the morning and focus like a laser. You have no choice but to work as hard as you can.
Now that you understand the law, you should apply it to your writing process.
Most marketers like to give plenty of extra time in case they can’t finish a post in time.
What I advise you to do, and what I do myself, is to limit your time to the lowest amount you think is realistic (without rushing the post).
For example, if I think a post can be done in a day, that’s how long I allot for it.
The other side of this is that it’s a good idea to plan in advance and have a few extra posts ready to go.
If you do underestimate the time a post will take, which does happen, you want to have those backups ready to go.
3. Start at the end, and work backwards
Writer’s block affects everyone, even us non-fiction content marketers.
You stare at a blank or mostly blank page, trying to think of something to write.
This is clearly a huge waste of time.
Consider that the average typing speed is about 40 words per minute. You might even be able to beat that.
If you could simply type for an hour straight, at 80% of that speed, you’d crank out 1,920 words per hour.
Be honest, do you even come close to that when you’re actually creating content?
If you do, you probably don’t need this post.
This dead time is the main reason for this drastic difference in theory versus reality.
The main cause of writer’s block: There are many reasons that could cause you to pause while writing, but the most common is trying to think ahead.
You try to consider what you should write next and whether that will make sense when you’ll get to the later parts of your post.
Sometimes, you just stare at a blank screen because there are too many possibilities, which overwhelms you.
You can eliminate this by taking the opposite approach.
Instead of wondering what you should write at the moment, you should ask yourself, “What is the point of this post?”
Once you know that, work backwards, and create a very basic outline that supports your central points.
This takes 5-10 minutes upfront but can save you a ton of time, especially with long posts.
4. Make typing automatic
I told you above that the average typing speed is 40 words per minute.
Honestly, it’s not too difficult to push that to above 60 words per minute. Doing that alone will decrease your writing time by up to 50% (probably more like 20% due to other distractions).
That’s a huge amount.
If you’re already a really good typist, just move on to the next section. But I know that a lot of my readers know multiple languages, and some might not have grown up with computers, which makes it difficult.
Remember, typing is a skill. Like all skills, it can be improved with a bit of practice.
And if you currently have to think about where keys are on the keyboard, taking the time to make typing an unconscious habit will pay off greatly.
Step 1 is to test your typing speed. There are many free tests out there, and Key Hero is one of them. The test will only take a minute or two.
If your typing speed is under 60 words per minute, you’ll benefit a lot from improving it. Alternatively, use the narration tools I mentioned in tip #1.
How do you actually improve your typing speed? To start with, you need to make sure your typing technique is correct.
The proper hand placement consists of your 4 fingers on each hand hovering over the home row (middle) keys and thumbs over the space bar.
Next, get in the habit of not looking at the keyboard. If you do, it’ll be next to impossible to get to a solid typing speed.
Once that feels normal, if you haven’t been doing it already, it’s time to practice. Key Hero has a practice round that should work really well—you just type random letters and words that come up:
Commit to just 20 minutes a day, and in a few weeks, you’ll see big improvements.
Do a little work now to save hundreds of hours in the future.
5. Take breaks (yes, seriously!)
It’s extremely counter-intuitive, but taking breaks usually makes us more productive.
Studies have shown that even short breaks of a few minutes can improve productivity by over 10%.
It makes sense when you think about it. After working for a while, you lose focus, get bored, and can’t concentrate well.
Breaks don’t need to be long, but a few minutes every 30-60 minutes is a good idea. You should know how much time it takes before your concentration starts to wane.
If you’re not sure where to start, I highly recommend the Pomodoro Technique.
It’s very simple:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Work until the timer finishes
- Take a 5 minute break
- All of that is one Pomodoro
- Repeat steps 1-3 four times. After the fourth 30-minute period, take a long break (anywhere from 15-50 minutes, up to you)
Here’s an online tomato timer, or you can use a timer on your phone.
This procedure is supposed to keep you focused and fresh while working.
6. Write first, edit after
I kind of touched upon it earlier, but I want to make it clear here.
There are all sorts of distractions while you write. Random thoughts you have, trying to decide whether you’re using the right words, figuring out what to write next, and so on.
Whether it’s obvious or not, you’re multitasking.
Multitasking is horribly inefficient because every time you switch to thinking about the next thing, there’s a “switch cost.”
The switch cost is often just a second or less, but consider that you can have thousands of thoughts an hour, and it adds up to minutes of wasted time on a regular basis.
Research has shown that constantly shifting focus can decrease productivity by up to 40%.
This is the main reason you don’t want to write a sentence and then think about whether you should edit it. It takes way too much time, and then you waste more time switching back to your writing mode.
The first draft of anything is garbage.
That’s a quote by Ernest Hemingway, one of the most famous writers there is.
Even if you’re editing your content line by line, it’s still going to suck compared to what it has the potential to be. You can’t really know whether a sentence fits until you have the whole post written.
As you can see, this type of multitasking doesn’t work, and you should edit your post after you’ve written everything you wanted to say.
So, instead of multitasking, write the first thing that comes into your head.
That’s what most professional writers do.
They don’t revise until they finish the first draft—they just let the thoughts flow from their head onto the page. That’s something that can also be accomplished through narration.
Then, you do a thorough edit and refine your content into gold.
It may seem like doing two things instead of one will take more time, but try it, and you’ll likely find that you will not only have a better final product but also save time.
In the end, what you need to become a freelance writer is a mix of traits you’ve either got already or can work to develop – and skills so you can deliver the sort of writing clients want to pay you to create. If you love reading, have been told you’re a good writer, and would like to learn more about freelance writing as a business, you’ll love the Working Writer, Happy Writer course.