November 9th, 2021

Copycat's Anatomy #4

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Written by Rebecca van Laer

How Do I Write Faster?

At Copycat, we’re always in the process of creating new professional development resources for working and aspiring copywriters. The below blog post is adapted from our in-house manual on all things copy-related, Copycat’s Anatomy.

When you start out as a copywriter, it’s difficult to predict how long a given assignment will take.

If you’re used to cranking out 800 words of your novel in a morning pre-work power hour, you might think that a blog post of a similar length will take the same amount of time. But whether that’s true depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Your existing familiarity with the client and industry
  • The extensiveness of the brand guidelines
  • How easily you can capture the brand voice
  • The amount of research required for the specific topic
  • Your stress level, workload, and state of mind

But if you’re reading this thinking that you’ve never written 800 words in an hour and regularly find that a 1500-word blog post swallows half the day, you might be concerned that you’re a slow writer, doomed to produce less in an industry that places a value on volume.

We’re here with some good news—the pace you write at now isn’t the pace you’ll write at forever. 

With practice and time, you’ll speed up.

How much depends on how quickly you identify the tools that work for you. 

Step 1: Identify Where You Get Stuck

We all know the parable of the tortoise and the hare, and the accompanying moral that slow and steady wins the race.

But as you’ve probably learned from experience, writing is rarely a linear process. Many writers go over a section of their writing more than once to restructure, rewrite, and proofread.

And if you’re a tortoise backtracking on the same path time after time, you might have difficulty finding hope in folk wisdom.

So how can you speed up?

Using the racetrack as our metaphor, examine your own writing habits—do you tend to lose pace around the starting gate, outlining the way to perfect your form and plan your trek before you start sprinting? Do you find that you wander off the path at several points? 

Or do you simply run out of stamina somewhere in the middle of the process?

Writers commonly flounder over three obstacles:

  • Pre-writing – Some people hit the ground running (or in this case, the page writing). Others spend significant time researching before they open a document. Still others create an entire outline before they pen a single sentence. While pre-writing techniques including brainstorming, researching, word trees, and outlining can all be a valuable part of the writing process, we recommend that you never spend more than 15 minutes on pre-writing before you start tackling at least one part of your copywriting project.

  • Distractions – So you’ve moved past the prewriting stage and you’re ready to start making headway in your document. The only problem? You’re looking away from your Google Doc every five minutes—and rather than scanning headlines or scrolling through just a couple of posts, you find yourself wandering further and further from the task at hand. In this case, you need some new tools to trick yourself into focusing.

  • Finding a flow state – You’ve taken our advice thus far, and you’re laser-focused on your document. The only problem? You’re not exactly making leaps and bounds forward in your word count. Instead, eeking out each new word feels like a struggle. Maybe you’ve even tried to read over what you’ve shaped, assuming you’re sure to spark some new ideas… but instead, you’re lost in the weeds again. 

Here, we’d be remiss not to say that many writers encounter all of these obstacles when working with new or particularly tricky clients. 

And that’s okay!

The goal is to build up your arsenal of speedwriting tools so you can employ them appropriately when needed. Next, we’ll conquer them category by category.

Step 2: Streamline Your Pre-Writing Process

Writing on a new topic can be intimidating. You’ve never had a cat, so how the heck are you going to write an article on “How to Socialize a Feral Kitten?”

New writers often think that they need to write from a position of absolute authority, showcasing their client’s expertise. 

But while it’s true that you always want to base your article in top-quality research and cold, hard facts, it’s actually more important to think about the reader’s query than the brand’s platform. Someone who is Googling a topic like the above doesn’t know the first thing about the kittens they’ve just rescued, and your goal as a writer is to meet them where they are.

To cut down your pre-writing process and meet your goal of at least beginning to write within 15 minutes, follow these tips:

[#1] Refer to similar articles. There are some article genres that come up again and again: 

  • Top X Benefits of ___
  • Steps to do ___
  • What is ___?
  • How to ____

Look at articles you’ve written in the past that use a similar format. How did you balance voice and information? How can you achieve the same end product? 

[#2] Write the easiest part first. Don’t quite understand the ins and outs of kittens’ developmental stages yet?

Put a pin in that.

Start by writing a part of the article that you find easier, like the client plug or the introduction. Add other voice-y bits throughout if applicable. 

Once you have some words on the page, you’ll have a better sense of how much you need to learn to flesh out the article.

[#3] Scale back on research. Have a hundred tabs open with different web sources? Close ‘em! After you’ve perused two high-quality sources, enter your first two headings. Complete these two sections to the best of your ability without diving into any additional research.

[#4] Write an explanation for your own reference. You’re starting at square zero with cat knowledge. You know you need to explain the specifics of the cat socialization process in a crystal clear, accessible fashion—but how can you do that when you’ve never owned a pet?

  • Open a separate word document and paste in any and all relevant research (quotes from articles, dictionary definitions, etc). Highlight all pasted text in yellow so you’re extra-sure not to plagiarize. 

  • Start putting each source into your own words until you’re confident you understand what the heck it means.

  • Show your struggle. If you find yourself asking questions like wait, what’s the difference between feral and stray? Are these two terms used interchangeably? Readers likely have the same question. Part of your piece can actually be structured around the confusing parts of your topic.

  • Soon, you’ll see what readers need to understand (and in what order they need to learn it)

  • Using this new knowledge, go back into the original document and start writing your tricky section. Fill it in with the text you’ve already generated, quoting or paraphrasing sources as is relevant.

Step 3: Beat Distractions

So you’ve cut your pre-writing time down. Time to treat yourself with a little scroll through the ‘ol cellphone… right? 

While we’re huge advocates of taking breaks, there is definitely such a thing as too many (at least if you want to turn in your article before sunrise).

If you find yourself spending more time navigating away from your document than adding words to it, consider the following.

[#1] The pomodoro technique involves 25 minute writing sprints. Studies show that individuals are actually more productive when they give their brains frequent breaks. To practice pomodoro, set a time for 25 minutes and spend that entire time on your article. That can mean researching, outlining, or reading. But whatever you do, don’t stop. If you’re stuck on a particularly tricky section, start writing an easier one, like the client plug.

[#2] Use web blocking tools like Leechblock to manually block access to your favorite websites for an hour or the rest of the day. If your cellphone is the enemy of your productivity, try Forest.


Step 4: Find Your Flow State

Most people who pursue careers in writing love the craft because, at some point, they’ve entered a flow state while threading words on the page.

Also called being “in the zone,” a flow state is “a cognitive state where one is completely immersed in an activity,” enjoying “intense focus, creative engagement, and the loss of awareness of time and self.”

Sounds nice, right? Here are our tips to help you achieve this particular nirvana. 

[#1] Write a vomit-draft. Some of us (looking at you, perfectionists) go through our own writing with an editor’s hat on—we’re looking for ways to refine the sentences in our introduction and reorganize the points under our first heading well before we dive into the second half of the article. But this perspective can make it much more time-consuming to finish a first draft. Instead, put on your writer’s hat and spew out your first draft as quickly as possible. (We know—ew.) That remarkable editor’s brain of yours will kick into gear when it’s time for the read-through.

[#2] Try a different medium. Has your cursor been blinking for the better part of an hour? Close the Google Doc and try:

  • Writing by hand on a blank piece of paper
  • Marking up your article (printer or in a .pdf on your tablet) with new ideas
  • Talking out loud (and using dictation tools to capture your words)

[#3] Know when to take a break. The Pomodoro technique discussed above is based on the understanding that we function best when we give our attention frequent rest. Some signs that you need a break?

  • You know you’re writing much more slowly than usual
  • You’re getting stressed about how long the piece is taking you
  • Your own writing isn’t making sense to you
  • You keep catching mistakes
  • You can’t keep yourself on task
  • You’ve been looking at your screen for so long that your eyes struggle to adjust when you look away

If you’re experiencing any of the above, taking a break might just be the peak productivity trick.

Have a snack. Look out the window. Go on a walk. Take a deep breath. 

Then, come back to the article and the situation with fresh eyes. 

The Tortoise, the Hare, and the Copycat

When it comes to copywriting, neither the tortoise or the hare wins the race.

Instead, it’s the agile cat who can shimmy their way past every obstacle in the writing process.

One final tip? If you find yourself in the quagmires of a particular assignment, ask for help! After all, that’s why we’re here—to help you hone your skills in delivering top-quality content.

Want to practice speedwriting, voice, and other tricks of the trade? Subscribe to our writer newsletter by emailing us at hr@copycatcopywriters.com.

Sources: 

Cognition. Brief and rare mental “breaks” keep you focused. https://philpapers.org/rec/ARIBAR

Psychology Today. Flow. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/flow

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