Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How to Write FAST By Peter Andrews

LUCY BURDETTE: Today's guest was another presenter I met at the Connecticut Fiction Fest. Once he explained how he increased his productivity to 10,000 words per week, I was hooked. And I thought you all would be interested in his common sense ideas and homework too. Help us Peter!

PETER ANDREWS: There are many reasons why people want to increase their productivity. Bloggers may want to post frequently enough to attract an audience. Journalists may need to deliver copy on deadline. Genre novelists may need to produce enough to keep editors and agents happy. Academics may be facing “publish or perish.”
Really, anyone can write quickly. The trick is to write more productively. You don’t want to simply put more words on paper. You want to get more of your manuscript done for each hour of work.
I began to learn how to write more quickly when I took a job as a radio producer. I was responsible for three radio programs every week. It was like march or die for writers. A year into that job, I found that I was writing three times faster than I had been, and I’ve continued to look for ways to become more productive since.
Here are a few things I focus on, along with exercises that can help you up your productivity:
Obstacles and Excuses Know what stops you from writing or cuts into your efficiency.
Try this at home: Make a list of ten or more things that get in the way and brainstorm solutions. When something new gets in the way, add it to your list and find solutions for it. When a solution doesn’t work, come up with a new one.
Prep Make notes in full sentences. Add references, as appropriate. Set up a productivity/process journal. Decide what you will write the day before. Choose your audience. Reduce distractions.
Try this at home: Set a timer for 10 minutes and write (in full sentences, but without making any corrections) why being more productive is critical for you and what success will be for you as a writer. Count your words. 
Draft Give yourself permission to write lousy. Write (or complete) a sentence immediately. Keep writing. Avoid rewriting, editing, or even reading what you’ve written until you hit your word count.
Try this at home: Set a timer for 10 minutes. Write a letter to a friend about what you have learned about Fast Writing.
Rewriting Put aside a set amount of time. Set a goal and choose your documented rewriting process the day before. Either do what you promised the day before or try something new and document the results.
Try this at home: Document a process that you use (for restructuring, editing, rewording, proofing, etc.) in a productivity/process journal.
There’s a lot more to try. You can explore why you are writing, and document it. You can work with a writing buddy. And you should find ways to reward yourself and celebrate success.
But through it all, remind yourself that this is supposed to be fun. Enthusiasm is the best tool of all for productive writing.
Peter Andrews teaches How to Write Fast and is the author of a forthcoming book by the same name. He has worked as a speechwriter, teacher, chemist, and radio producer, and he is the co-author of Innovation Passport. He can be reached at
LUCY: Peter will be checking in today to talk about writing fast and help brainstorm what gets in your way. Questions? Comments?


Rhonda Lane said...

Great to see you here, Peter. Thank you for all the great tips.

At Crime Bake a couple of years ago, Sue Grafton told us she keeps a journal for each book where she bats around ideas, keeps her research, etc. Is that what you mean by a productivity journal? Thanks!

Alma said...

Lucy, Thank you for having Peter here today. I was sorry to miss his talk at the conference. I'll have to check his schedule and will try to catch him in the future.

Peter Mach II said...

Hi, Rhonda What you are talking about is a creative journal. A productivity journal actually records your processes and your progress. Track your approaches across whole gamut of writing activity: Ideation, preparation, drafting, rewriting, editing, proofing, marketing – you name it. I keep these on separate pages and in the order I use them. (I also date entries add references.) Separately, I track productivity, such as wordcount, and compare that against my goals. A key thing to remember though is this is not writing. A productivity journal should never take center stage and cut into your productivity. Thanks for the question. Peter

Peter Mach II said...

Hi, Alma My next scheduled speaking gigs are early next year. Send me a note, and I'll update you when they are firm. On July 2, I begin a 3 session class on HTWF at Westchester Community College (Valhalla). Also, you can check out my blog ( and follow me on Twitter (@howtowritefast). Thanks! Peter

Darlene Ryan said...

Peter, I noticed you said to make notes using full sentences. What's the reason for not just putting down key words and phrases?

Lucy Burdette said...

Thanks for being here Peter! my favorite bit of advice from your talk came when I complained about the Internet as time sink.

Peter said: TURN IT OFF

Casey Wyatt said...

Great advice Peter! I especially love your tip about enthusiasm. I've been averaging about 3,000 words a day on my latest WIP and it's fun to see the pages increase. I will have some clean up to do in revisions, but not much because I generally know where the story is going and that helps me be more productive.

Peter Andrews said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Mach II said...

Hi, Darlene That's a bit of wisdom from Ray Bradbury. He described the EXACT problem I was having - making notes for stories and finding later that I could not decipher them (or working to figure them out ate time and sapped my energy). Full sentences force me to make it clear from the start. I've found this creative journal technique provides the same benefits in my productivity journal. Thanks for asking. Peter

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

I make a chart, like a grid, with a space for each day. I know I have to write 540 words to finish by my deadline. I don't get up until I've done the 540. Sometimes it takes an hour. Sometimes--four, because I go back and tweak earlier stuff. Whatever. That's the deal I've made with myself. Forward progress.

My pre-writing ritual is to enter the previous day's count on the chart, and calculate where I have to be next. It really works for me.

March or die. I love it! (I'm a TV reporter--so I'm with ya!)And it's still true. Thank you so much for being here!

Are you in the "have to write every day" school?

Peter Mach II said...

Hi, Lucy That goes for other distractions, too. The first step is always realizing what is taking you away from the writing. The second is having the willpower to avoid these opportunities. When the Internet is off or the blinds are closed or the to-do's are scheduled for a specific non-writing time, the distractions diminish. Thanks! Peter

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Peter, I'm laughing abut the full sentences. Brilliant. Although--one night on my night-stand pad I wrote "Jake goes to Callaberry Street. Sees no bears."

I could NOT figure out what that meant! Later, I did! It was such a good idea, I had to re-imagine how I thought of it. SO funny.

Peter Mach II said...

Hi, Casey It is a surprise for most writers to see how following the process of drafting first and editing later increases productivity. You have it right. And it is amazing how avoiding looping (going back and editing repeatedly) builds your enthusiasm and dedication. Thanks! Peter

Lucy Burdette said...

You guys have probably figured this out--but Peter Mach II is AKA Peter Andrews--this is a blogger decision. go figure!

Peter Mach II said...

Blogger keeps changing my identities. I feel like superman without the perks. Several responses have not been posted. I'll redo them if they don't turn up soon.

Peter Mach II said...

Hi, Hank I like your chart idea. Flannery O'Connor used wordcount (200/day) as her goal, and it can be very effective. I am of the write-every-day school. Judith Guest (Ordinary People) said, for every day you take off, you'll spend a day getting your stride back. That's close enough to true to keep me at the laptop.
(This is a reconstructed response. Hope its shadow doesn't show now.)

Ramona said...

Dear Peter Andrews Mach II:

I love these suggestions, many of which I desperately need.

A question about your productivity notebook: Is there a workbook or guide available for this? If so, where can I find it? If not, why not?

Peter Mach II said...

Hi, Ramona I'm taking the handouts from my course and working them into as ebook - How to Write Fast - that I hope to make available by the end of the summer. There is a whole chapter on the productivity journal, so hang in there. Please send me a note if you want to know when it is published. In the meantime, if you have specific questions, ask away. Also (and this is for everyone) I am always available for questions directly and through my blog. Thanks! Peter

The Write Now! Coach said...

Great article, Peter! I'm the author of Write-A-Thon: Write a Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It)--which also helps writers write fast. For me the most key tool for writing faster is doing writing prep the day before--creating a mind map or idea list so that I know what I am working on. Then my subconscious can work on it while I am sleeping and working out. The second tool I like--that helps me STAY productive--is taking healthy breaks. Our attention does waver after time but according to the attention restoration theory, we can restore it by spending some time in nature. That helps writers write more and longer!

Peter Mach II said...

Hi, Write Now! Coach
The practice of doing the prep to put the subconscious to work is absolutely on point. If you get your mind to work in the background, it will do amazing things. Stepping away with exercise or a shower or a nap is an essential part of my process. So is stretching now (having learned the hard way how necessary that is). The nose to the grindstone, Puritan approach is counter-productive. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yeah, you know, it's kind of amazing. I think of it as "setting my intent." I set my intent for the next day when I get up from writing. "Tomorrow, Jane has to get out of the burning building."

And I know--somehow, my brain is working on that. It's so fascinating.

Rhys Bowen said...

Thanks Peter. Good tips.
That tip on giving yourself permission to write lousy is a good one. Sometimes just getting the words down on paper and letting the story move forward is what's needed. Everyone has dry days but making sure you write every day is important. And not breaking off to self-edit. There will be time for editing when the story is finished.

Peter Mach II said...

For the daring, a step that complements "setting the intent" is leaving an unfinished sentence at the end of the day. This is NOT for everyone. (In fact, it is my most controversial tip. People who hate it go so far as to say it is damaging for everyone else.) I will admit that, for me, it is annoying and sometimes torture -- but it does get me eager and ready to get back to the writing. This is truly a YMMV situation. Peter

Peter Mach II said...

Right, Rhys. Writing in unusual among the arts in that it requires both sides of the brain throughout the process -- right to compose and left to edit. Since the left loves to take over, this can lead to bad practices (such as looping) and even the dreaded writer's block. Telling the left brain to sit down and shut up during drafting makes a big difference. ("But this is lousy," left says. "I know. I like it lousy. Go away until we get to rewrites.") Peter

Anonymous said...

Several excellent tips that I can use starting today: pick a word count goal and stick to it; articulate the next day's goals before you quit; allow yourself to write poorly if that will get you over the hump. The hardest thing: turn off the Internet (after all, here I am). David Corbett mentioned a software program that will do it for you if your will power's lacking. That's probably the answer for me. - Susan

Peter Mach II said...

Hi, Susan It might be worth considering trying a full-screen writing program that makes all other applications invisible. Several examples are listed in Wikipedia ( I find Omniwriter ( amusing. It gives you a colored background ("chromatherapy"), ambient music and more. All while hiding those alluring applications.

Deb said...

Thanks, Peter! All fascinating and very useful. I'd have posted sooner but I was writing:-) I am notoriously slow, but have begun to work out some of things you suggest on my own. I will certainly be buying your book and checking out your blog, and will hope to make faster progress on the next book.

I've been using Scrivener for the first time for this book, as it's finally available in a PC version, and have found it enormously helpful in keeping track of daily word count, blocking out the next day's work, and stopping the dreaded self-editing. I tell myself I can edit when I transfer the chapter into Word, and it's amazing how much that improves the word count. Can't wait to see what else you suggest!

Peter Mach II said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Deb. I don't use Scrivener regularly, but a number of my students find it invaluable. Also, they have recommended Gwen Hernandez's course. (

Lucy Burdette said...

Thanks so much for all your tips today Peter--and for being on top of every comment! We'll have to have you back in the fall when your book is out. Maybe you can tell us more about the productivity journal then.

Debs, I'm curious about whether you've found Scrivener to have a sharp learning curve. I have a short span of time to finish this book and afraid to take on something that will eat into it.

But I am going to plan tomorrow's work tonight!

Peter Mach II said...

Music to my ears, Lucy. Also, people can always send me a note or post a question to my blog.
I've had a great time here today. JRW is a great host!