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Writing fiction fast

We writers share one thing in common: We exist for the moment a reader gently sets eyes to our first word, our first sentence. From that instant forward, our fate is in our own hands. Either they keep going or they cast us aside.


MikeSager headshot (1)High Tolerance_Re_FThis guest post is by bestselling author and award-winning reporter Mike Sager. He’s been called “the Beat Poet of American journalism.” For more than fifteen years Mike has worked as a Writer-at-Large for Esquire magazine. A former Contributing Editor of Rolling Stone and Writer-at-Large for GQ, Sager has also written for Vibe, Spy, Interview, Playboy, Washingtonian, InStyle, and Regardies. In 2010 he won the American Society of Magazine Editors National Magazine award for profile writing. He has authored and edited 10 books as well as four collections of stories, and a biography. Mike is also the Editor and Publisher of The Sager Group, a consortium of multi-media artists and writers with the intent of empowering those who make art without gatekeepers. For more info, please visit: www.mikesager.com or www.TheSagerGroup.net.


For me, modest success has been built though a careful approach to craft. Arguably, with all the other wild cards that go into being a writer, it’s the only aspect of my career over which I feel I have total control. Words on the screen. They’re all mine!

For nearly four decades, though vigilant practice, I’ve sought evermore to become the most vivid and commanding writer possible. Being read is a privilege. There’s so much out there to choose to explore. When a reader picks me, I feel thankful. And I feel responsible. In this way writing, to me, is a call to arms. Publication should be a promise to a reader that his or her time (and money) will be well spent. You can’t please everyone, but you can damn sure try.

And if a reader likes you once . . . they might want to check you out again. And so forth.

Success is all about the quality of the service you provide. The rainbow of little thumbs up everyone is so focused upon generating via social media? Well, first and foremost, there needs to be a pot of golden content. Isn’t that what generates the rainbow?

[Learn the 8 Essential Elements of a Nonfiction Book Proposal]

book proposal | publish a nonfiction bookFrom my first word to my last, I work hard to service and reward my readers. I want to reel them in and take them on a journey. I want to play with their heads a little. I want to dazzle them a little. There’s got to be surprises along the way. And there needs to be a good ending.

After the perspiration and gum shoe work of the reporting and research process, it is time to bring your craft and your magic. No matter if you’re writing a blog post, a newspaper feature, a big-time magazine piece, or a 150,000 word book, originality is the key. The writer’s byline. Isn’t that our brand? You need to make yours stand out.

Over two decades of teaching writing at journalism schools and professional seminars around the country and overseas, I found that certain tidbits of advice I’d written on manuscripts (both electronically and on paper), resurfaced time and again. After a while, I started keeping a list.

[What’s A Nonfiction Writer Supposed to Do During November’s National Novel Writing Month? Here’s what.]

Try these 25 tips out for size and your writing will improve almost immediately.

1. Get an imagination. If it’s been done before, find a different way to do it. If it’s been said before, find a different way to say it.

2. Do not start stories with the time, season, or weather conditions.

3. Do not start with “It was” or “It’s” or “When.”

4. Do not ever use time stamp sub heads (ie: 12:15 p.m.) to break up a feature story. Write in scenes.

5. If you can’t find the killer declarative sentence to lede with, use an evocative scene-setting description.

6. See like a movie camera—make your writing cinematic. Zoom in. Pan the surroundings. Use your words to make pictures.

7. Build your images in linear fashion. Employ digression to explain.

8. Use all five senses—writing is the only medium that is able.

9. Go through your copy and eliminate as many recurrences of “that” you can find.

10. Employ the elements of the novel: scene, setting, characters, dialogue, drama. (And point of view only where appropriate.)

11. Don’t be so fast to write in first person. Isn’t it enough that somebody’s reading you?

12. Don’t begin your narrative stories with the climax. Begin a couple scenes before the climax, then backtrack, then move forward. Give the reader a reason to keep reading until the end.

13. What you don’t describe is just as important as what you do describe–omission invites the reader to fill in some of the details themselves. In reality, reading was the first interactive game. Take note: Your reader is making their own pictures from your words. And take advantage of that! It gives the reader an unconscious stake.

14. Ask yourself: Why am I using this detail?

15. When in doubt, cut it out.

[Freelance Writing: 10 Ways to Satisfy Editors & Land More Assignments]

16. If someone reads this twenty years from now, will they understand the reference?

17. Don’t work so hard with every sentence. Think of the meaning of “diamond in the rough.”

18. Let your choice of details work subtly to invoke the attitude you wish to convey. (Instead of slamming the reader over the head with it.)

19. When using dialog, stick with using “said” or “says.” Avoid fancy attributions—recalls, retorts, replies, unless it is done sparingly for effect.

20. Be careful of too much effect. It becomes affect.

21. Rely on nouns and verbs more than adjectives and adverbs.

22. Show, don’t tell.

23. Pick out a good voice and read out loud to yourself as you write. And also as you edit. Hear the rhythm of the syllables, the words. Good prose is like a song.

24. Read writing by great writers. You can start with Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists, which I edited with Walt Harrington, the awarding winning author, former Washington Post staffer, and professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. For more info, please see www.TheSagerGroup.Net.

25. To read dozens more tips on reporting and writing, please see www.MikeSager.com.

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.


Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

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Method 1 Writing More Quickly by Hand

  1. 1

    Make outlines. As long as you know how best you remember things, use keywords instead of trying to write word for word what your professor or interviewee is saying. Make sure that you're using an outline that makes sense to you. If you can't understand it later, then it won't be very useful.[1]
  2. 2

    Use symbols. Make up some symbols for important concepts related to what you're doing. You already probably do this to an extent – using "&" for "and," "+" for "plus," &c., &c. Well, don't just stop there!
  • Gregg shorthand is somewhat phonetic based and somewhat spelling based. It uses differently squiggly lines to designate words. It is often considered better than Pitman for taking dictation.[2]
  • Pitman shorthand is a line based shorthand technique that uses the sounds of speech rather than the spelling. For instance the sound "f" is going to be written the same whether it's in "elephant," "find," or "tough." Pitman relies on a series of slashes, curves, and dots to stand in for the sounds of the language.[3]
  • Speedwriting is also a phonetic system which condenses words so that you don't write out the silent letters. It uses certain symbols and letters to stand in for sounds (a "." for "the" or a "+" for "and"). Speedwriting is considered to be more than twice as fast than longhand writing.
If you can learn to effectively read and write in boustrophedon, you can eliminate the time it takes for your hand to reach the next line--something that really adds up over time.
  • 5

    Practice. Practice makes perfect! Write about anything that you think of, all the time. Write in prose and poetry, long- and short-hand, in "note-taking" and "official document" form. (Practice is one of the few ways that you can increase longhand speed, too, as well as shorthand speed.)
    • Shorthand is only useful if you have it memorized. Otherwise you're taking more time to recall the shorthand than you would be simply writing in longhand.
  • Method 2 Writing Documents Faster

    1. 1

      Research beforehand.
    Think about what you want to write and what you're trying to get across. This can be as messy and vague as you need it to be as long as it helps you format your writing before you start. Remember, this is only your first draft, so the outline and the draft can change once it's written.[5]
    • If you're writing an essay, map out your thesis statement, and provide keywords for each topic you're covering, or each paragraph.
    • For an article, you could map out your writing by subheadings.
    • For a novel, you could outline your writing by chapter or by plot, depending on how in-depth you need it to be.
  • 3

    Minimize distractions. You're not going to get anything written if you're constantly being interrupted, or you keep getting distracted by people watching.
  • If you can't constantly mess around online, you'll have more time to spend writing.
  • Turn your phone off. It's incredibly unlikely that you're going to have an emergency in the couple hours you're going to spend writing. Get that distraction out of the way!
  • 4

    Set a timer. While this can be incredibly irritating and stressful it will help you get finished with your writing and do so quickly. You probably have a good idea how long it will take you to write an article, essay, or chapter without distractions.
    • You don't even have to use an actual timer. If you've made a batch of cookies, your timer is the cookies. That way you'll get a treat at the end of your writing.
    • If you can, write while on the bus or the metro.
  • Focus on getting it written before you focus on cleaning it up. It's easier to edit something when you actually have something written.[7]
    • Turn off spellcheck while you write. You can turn it back on once you've finished, but while you're just getting words on the page, it will only slow you down.
    • Don't worry about your own personal voice (even if you're writing a story or poem). All that will come through when you polish it. Or, if you're writing a news story or essay, you don't particularly need a personal style as long as it is clear what you're writing.
  • 6

    Get a writing buddy. Especially get someone who has to write something, too. For instance, if you're both participating in National Novel Writing Month, or you both have the same class.
  • wikiHow Contributor

    Make sure that you are using the right pen or pencil, and try not to hold it too tight. Also, keep practicing. With enough practice, you will be able to write faster while keeping your handwriting neat and clean.

  • What do I do if my hand hurts when I write too fast?

    wikiHow Contributor

    Take a minute to stretch your hand, then resume. Hand muscles take time to develop, and the more you practice, the stronger they'll become.

  • I want to write faster and in good handwriting in exams. How can I do this?

    wikiHow Contributor

    Practice as much as you can. While writing the paper, keep in touch with the time, and if possible allocate more time for writing.

  • Comments

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