The Pressure to Write Fast
As a lawyer, I’ve often found myself required to write much more quickly than I comfortably can. No matter how much I plan, there are will always be situations that pop up requiring same-day turnaround on a legal brief memo.
I see similar pressure to write quickly in many online spaces. A lot of successful writers encourage aspiring writers to publish with incredibly high frequency, which in turn requires writing fast.
Whether writing for work, school, or even just a hobby, the ability to write quickly seems on its way towards becoming an indispensable skill.
I know that I’m capable of writing fast, but I can’t help but wonder whether doing so ends up having a negative impact on my writing. To try finding out, I spent some time earlier today reviewing various writing that I had done at different speeds over the past few months.
I ended up discovering mixed results, but some clear patterns.
Different Types of Writing Require Different Speeds
The most important thing that I realized is that different types of writing require different speeds.
Boilerplate legal memos are just as good no matter how quickly I write them. Half the content is copy-pasted, and the rest is just about getting facts across as plainly and clearly as possible.
On the other hand, unique memos about complex areas of law simply can’t be written quickly and well. (At least not by me.) These are too prone to mistakes and unclear wording, and really have to be written at a slow, careful speed.
When it comes to online writing, I was surprised to see that the things I write most quickly actually have tended to do better as far as reader engagement goes.
My best guess, having reread them, is that writing quickly helps me keep a more casual tone. My writing often ends up a little too dry and “clinical,” and writing fast may be the key to avoiding that.
I went into this expecting to see a negative correlation between speed and quality. Now, I no longer believe that there’s any single, clear-cut correlation between the two.
Fast Writing Shouldn’t Be Sloppy
Even if writing quickly can work out well, it still shouldn’t turn into an excuse to be sloppy. Although most of my more quickly written posts have turned out well, some of them ended looking like rambling rants.
For me, there are two strategies that I use when writing quickly to keep my writing reigned in:
- Outline: Before I start actually writing, I try to create a brief outline. Often, I have no idea where I’m going to go with a piece. In that case, I just outline the first paragraph and take things from there. As I start to see where I’m going, I reorganize and add to the outline.
- Edit: I’m not perfect with my editing. I’ve certainly let some typos and other errors slip through. With that said, there’s no excuse not to at least attempt an edit of everything you write. I’m a firm believer in the idea that editing should be just as big a part of the writing process as drafting.
Not only do these strategies help keep my writing on track, but sometimes they even help me write more quickly. They both allow me to get through the first draft of writing without breaking my flow.
Some types of writing will probably always need to be done slowly, but I think writing fast can work very well in some cases.
If you’ve been resistant to writing quickly, because you’re worried the quality of your writing will suffer, I’d recommend at least giving it a try. Even if it does turn out subpar, you can always fix it in the edits.