Believe it or not, the biggest challenge of being a freelance writer isn’t finding new clients. It’s finding time to actually do the writing. At least, it is when you also work full-time. When I first started landing freelance writing jobs, I was dismayed by how long it took me to even finish a 500-word project. I simply did not know how to write faster.
That’s because in the beginning, I didn’t have a structured approach to writing articles. I would try to “write pretty” when all I had to work with was an (intimidating) blank page.
I would think long and hard about the structure, grammar, and flow of words before I even attempted to write a sentence.
Eventually, I realized that I would have to figure out how to write faster if I was going to continue to freelance, blog, and work full-time. I have since developed a method that involves breaking the process into several, relatively short steps.
Instead of trying to tackle an article all at once, I break up the task into five shorter phases:
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Some freelance writing jobs require you to write about predetermined topics, but many gigs require you to come up with all the topics yourself. Brainstorming is great for strengthening your creativity muscle and the more you do it, the better you get at generating new ideas!
The trick to brainstorming is to completely do away with censorship and go into it understanding that no concept or thought is “too stupid” to write down. Just let the words or ideas flow out and don’t worry about sticking to a certain train of thought or categorizing.
There’s a number of ways to brainstorm, but I like to just jot things down on a piece of paper or in bullet point form in a Google doc. I keep these sessions to no more than 15 minutes.
Afterwards, I use Trello to organize my ideas by giving each one it’s own “Card” and then grouping connective concepts together on a “List.”
Typically a day or so after my brainstorming session, I’ll come back to my Trello board with fresh eyes and usually it’s pretty apparent which idea I should go with.
At this stage, I will type out a very basic outline for what I’m trying to cover in the article. This consists of just headings and perhaps one or two bullet points for each. I try to come up with as many headings as I can.
Later on in the process, I pare them down or consolidate them to into just the most pertinent talking points. This process takes maybe ten minutes.
It’s always a good idea to infuse facts and statistics into articles for credibility, and most freelance writing jobs require you to cite your sources anyway. So I read up on what I’m writing about before I start drafting the article.
Anytime I find information that I want to include, I will save the link of the web page it’s on, and put it at the bottom of my draft with a note to summarize what it is.
This is also when I start doing a little SEO research. I use Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest to find keywords and phrases that are high volume, but not so competitive that I can’t rank for them. I found this tool a few months ago and it’s an invaluable resource for anyone who is writing online content. (And it’s totally free to use!)
I don’t spend a ton of time on this phase either, usually around twenty minutes or so, but sometimes longer if it’s a subject I don’t know as much about. (How to write faster pro tip: Pitching freelance writing jobs that are in a niche you already know a lot about helps keep the time you spend researching to a minimum!)
4. Ugly Write
This is when I write the first draft. And trust me, these drafts are not just rough. They’re ugly. (Seriously, you should have seen this post in it’s ugly phase!)
The goal is to get the meat of everything you’re trying to say onto the page without worrying about how well it reads. This is perhaps the most vital part in learning how to write faster!
Spelling? Grammar? Sentence structure? None of that matters when you’re ugly writing. And that’s what allows you to bang out a 1000 word draft in half an hour. (That, and all the prep work from steps 1-3.)
I find that these sessions tend to be most productive when I keep them short; 20-30 minutes depending on how long the article is supposed to be. If I need to come back for a second session I will, but it helps me stay focused knowing there’s a predetermined length of time I’m going to write for.
5. Make Pretty
Now we have a document to edit. This is when you get to do your actu
al “pretty writing”, that is, the version that you actually want people to see. I clean up the grammar, rephrase things, insert a few witticisms, and trim out the irrelevant stuff (of which there is usually a lot.)
I take those citation links at the bottom of the draft from phase three and insert them into relevant spots of the article as hyperlinks. Some time also goes into formatting and making my Yoast plugin happy by tweaking the article for better SEO and readability.
Prettying up your article also includes writing a solid conclusion. Sometimes I just add a brief summary, but more often than not I try to include a call to action to the readers by inviting them to share or read a related article.
Getting in your reps
If you’ve been wondering how to write faster, or have tried a similar method and still find it’s taking you a long time to write articles, just remember that it takes practice! Writing is like a muscle that gets stronger the more you do it. Just like weight training, you gotta get in your reps before you’ll start seeing results.
I also find it really helps to break the steps up into separate writing sessions, rather than trying to write the whole article at once. I usually do phases 1-3 during the week when I have less time, and I buckle down and do all my ugly writing on the weekends.
Thinking about becoming a freelance writer?
Of course, knowing how to write faster is just one aspect of freelance writing. But if freelance writing is something you’re curious about, you should be excited to know that there’s never been a more lucrative time for it! The internet is exploding with demand for writers of all kinds, you just need to know where to look and how to pitch.
To get you started, I’ve put together this free, no-nonsense guide detailing how to launch your own freelance writing side-biz in three steps!
Now, if you’re looking for something a little more in-depth on how to find success quickly as a freelance writer, you’ll want to take Gina Horkey’s course, 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success. Gina is the master of taking seemingly daunting tasks and breaking them down into bite-sized, actionable steps. I had NO clue what I was doing when I first started, but because of this course, I’ve made thousands of dollars of additional income on top of my full-time job. And the jobs are only getting more plentiful as I grow my business!