10 Tips for Faster Writing
by Daniel Jackson
It’s sitting between a rock and a hard place: college papers require thought and time to craft, but time slips away between life and other assignments. Sooner or later, you will sit at your computer with the cursor blinking and you will think to yourself that you need more time on this paper to do it justice. In this case, you need a quick way to write a strong paper.
Some of the most skilled people in the world who can write fast are journalists. Like college students, journalists have tight deadlines. It’s not unusual for a journalist at a daily newspaper to sit down twenty minutes until their deadline and hand in their story, nearly perfect. Obviously, this is a valuable skill in the hands of a college student. It takes practice, but once mastered it allows you to crank out papers with confidence. One young journalist told me that if he learned the technique of faster writing while he was in college, he would have never pulled an all-nighter. However, be warned: writing is hard work.
These tips will not make you a better writer, only a faster one. The best writing comes from hours of careful revision and thought. The vast majority of newspaper writing is not flashy. It is simply there to give the reader information. Poets, playwrights and novelists spend months (even years) crafting their masterpieces. Reporters report the news. If you want to write to impress, take time and do an excellent job. But when you are pressed for time, it is no time to get fancy. There is a tradeoff between speed and craftsmanship. A college course does not usually demand well crafted papers. The purpose of a school paper is not to entertain, but to demonstrate that you understand the material in a way that you can explain it to others. In this way, you show the instructor that you have learned the material. When the time grows short but the paper stays long, use these tips to get the job done.
1. Ain’t no replacement for grammar: Seasoned journalists can write one draft of their story without major editing because they know their grammar cold. Their readers can easily follow their thoughts. Likewise, your papers will be completed faster when you do not have to double check for run-on sentences, subject-verb agreement, and proper pronouns. Equally important, it helps the reader follow the logic of your paper, making your ideas clearer.
2. Minimize distractions: Some people like to write with background music. That’s fine. But if you get distracted, that is time that you are not going to get back. It only drags out the writing process. I find that I work best in silence. You should try it. You don’t know what it will do for your productivity until you do.
3. Do all your research beforehand: Your paper will only be a strong as the information that is in it. This means you should read the book, do the necessary research and come up with your ideas before sitting down to write. It is much easier to cut out information and leave the most interesting than to struggle to come up with enough to say.
4. Write to make clear, not to impress: Often, students think that they must impress the teacher. They will cram into their papers as many vocabulary words as they can to appear smart, with complex sentence structure, using too many words to say nothing. The goal of a paper is to demonstrate that you can present ideas clearly. An English teacher once told me that most of my papers should be written as if I was writing to my classmates. As a student, I can tell you, I don’t enjoy thick writing, but appreciate clear papers. Make things simple, not impressive. Simply explain the material and the length and grade will come.
5. Forget your style: This follows on the heels of the last point. Don’t worry about sounding like you, with your own personal flair. Don’t worry about complex sentence structure. Newspaper stories lack personality but get the job done. Ask yourself ‘what am I trying to say?’ then write down what comes to mind.