Since this is a post about working fast, let’s cut to the chase. Here’s how to complete writing assignments quickly without sacrificing quality.
Forget the ‘perfect first draft’
The idea that really good writers hammer out perfectly written pieces in one draft is nonsense. Plenty of people believe this myth, but I’m not sure why. Maybe it comes from their early schooling and teachers who insisted you always begin writing by crafting a meticulous outline, then follow it methodically by writing step-by-step, from 1 to 1a, 1b, 1c, 2, 2a … and so on.
The truth is, writing is a complicated and messy process that rarely follows an organized framework. Trying to write perfectly from the start will only get you bogged down in quicksand. If anyone tells you they completed a well-written piece on the first try, with no editing, they’re fibbing.
Here’s an example of a true writing professional at work. Check out this image of the manuscript for Harold Pinter’s play “The Homecoming.” I think you’ll agree his work wasn’t perfect from the start.
Creating a mind map is a far better approach to kicking off the writing process than outlining. The idea is to take a blank piece of paper and create a visual diagram by writing down the thoughts and topics you want to cover in your piece. Place your topic ideas within small circles. As one idea naturally leads to another, write those down in adjacent circles and join them with a series of connecting lines.
Mind mapping is a kind of “stream of consciousness” activity and a prelude to the act of writing itself. Your thoughts or topics don’t have to be in perfect order. What’s important is getting them all down on the page. This will create a visual reminder of the critical items you want to cover in your piece.
I find mind mapping useful when crafting a longer work, something beyond 1,000 words. But plenty of writers use the technique for shorter pieces. Here’s an example of a mind map I created for one of my recent articles:
Just start typing
After mind mapping, you’re ready to write. But remember, trying to craft a perfect piece off the bat slows down the entire process. Just accept that your first draft will likely be sloppy, unstructured and full of errors.
Start typing and get your raw material on paper—quickly. Your draft doesn’t have to be clean or follow any particular order. That’s okay, because your job is simply to place your mind-mapped thoughts on the page in sentences and paragraphs.
Above all, resist the temptation to edit while writing your first draft. I mean it—don’t even stop to fix an obvious spelling error or insert a comma. Editing while writing slows productivity to a crawl. Once you’ve completed draft one, then the real work begins.
The true grunt work
Editing, not writing, creates clarity and elevates your work from “just okay” to “great!” Now that all of your raw material is on the page in 10-point Arial, you’re ready to take stock and begin shaping your work.
Devote the bulk of your creativity to this stage in the writing process. Identify your central ideas and supporting statements, move sentences and paragraphs around, decide which quotes work best and where they should be inserted, cut material due to space limitations. Now is the time to worry about sentence structure, word choice, proper punctuation and creating flow so readers can easily absorb your piece. You might even identify holes in your work to fill with additional information.
If you’ve started the writing process by mind mapping and quickly creating a rough first draft, then you’re ahead of the curve. Worry less about editing and making everything “perfect” up front. That will save lots of time and allow you to finish projects on time. Heck, you might even start beating deadlines!
Do you have your own methods of shortening the writing process? What works best for you? Let us know in the comments section below.