Shortwave Magazine

NonFiction / Writing

How I Write 1,000 Words an Hour

a guide
by Nicole Dieker

March 3, 2023
1,414 Words
Genre(s):

Right now it’s 1 p.m. on Tuesday, February 28.

By 2 p.m., this piece will be 1,000 words long.

Not just because I wrote “right now it’s 1 p.m. on Tuesday, February 28” when I could have written “it’s 1 p.m.” I used to do things like that, when I was an early-career freelancer getting paid by the word. Now I use what I learned, during those early days—not the tricks, necessarily, but the tips—to maintain a relatively consistent 1,000-word-per-hour output.

Day in, day out.

Here’s how I do it—and how you can, too.

I type very, very quickly.

We’ll start with the least interesting tip—since it’s probably something you already know how to do. If you want to write 1,000 words an hour, being able to type 100 words a minute helps.

That said, even people who can only type 17 words per minute will be able to get their 1,000 words in, as long as they’re able to keep it up for sixty minutes straight.

Which means that what really matters isn’t the speed, necessarily. It’s the words—one after the other, until you have 1,000 in a row.

Or, as is more often the case, in groups.

Well-organized groups.

Each successive chunk of text designed to both provide a piece of information and carry the reader into the next section.

Which brings us to—

I outline before I write.

This entire piece—which is already 246 words long, if you’re keeping track—was outlined in advance.

All I have to do now is follow the outline and fill in the text.

Outlining really is the secret to my success. It’s also the secret to my ability to write 1,000 words in succession.

If you are a smart reader—and most Shortwave readers are—you’re probably going to say “Wait a minute, Nicole. You can’t say you write 1,000 words an hour if you spend, like, an extra thirty minutes outlining. The time it takes to prepare the piece is just as important as the time it takes to write the piece!”

You are correct.

There is an argument to be made for, like, retitling this article “How I Write 1,000 Words in Ninety Minutes.”

Except—

And here’s the other secret to my success—

I don’t outline all at once.

As soon as I knew I was going to be writing this article for Shortwave Magazine, I created a new document titled SHORTWAVE WRITE FAST POST.

I kept this document open during my morning processing sessions. I added to it, here and there, as ideas came to mind. I shifted the ideas around, forming order out of insight.

By the time it was time to write the piece, I had a very good idea of how it was going to go.

But it didn’t take, like, an extra thirty minutes of me staring at a blank page.

Instead, it took dedicated, daily processing.

Two different kinds of processing, in fact—active and passive.

I set aside time to actively process.

Whenever I teach writing classes—and I’ve been teaching writing classes for nearly a decade—I tell people that they need 20 minutes of process time for every hour of writing time.

This goes double for freelancers, who need not only process time but also admin time (pitches, invoices, following up on unpaid invoices, etc.).

You need time to do the work that allows you to do the work.

Yes, you could start writing without knowing where you’re going next, and plenty of writers do.

But what happens—and I know this because it happens all the time when I draft the Larkin Day Mysteries—is that writing-as-guessing only gets you so far.

Eventually you stop putting words on the page.

You start staring at the page, instead.

I’m going to digress, for about 100 words or so, to explain how this works (or doesn’t work) with Larkin. As you might remember if you read my article on How to Write a Mystery Series, I outline every Larkin Day Mystery in advance—which is one of the biggest reasons why I’m able to complete a new 60,000-word novel every six months.

That said, there are gaps in my outline. Sometimes I know about the gaps before I start writing. My outline might say “AND THEN THEY ALL FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET BACK TO PRATINCOLA,” for example, and I have to figure it out myself before they can. Other times there’s a gap that surprises me. I didn’t know exactly how the character who becomes Larkin’s nemesis (since every Sherlock needs a Moriarty) would announce his mission to menace, and I think I thought I would figure it out in the moment, and I didn’t—so I stared at the page and waited for something to happen, and it didn’t.

When I don’t know what to write next, I can’t write 1,000 Larkin words in an hour.

If I didn’t know what I was going to write next, I wouldn’t be able to write this piece in an hour either.

Much of what is getting written in this piece, including the words I’m writing right now (872, with fifteen minutes to go) took shape during specific chunks of time blocked off for active processing. During that time I check my email and research my upcoming articles and evaluate the thoughts I’ve jotted down in my paper notebook and contact potential sources. I build my outlines, in documents with titles like SHORTWAVE WRITE FAST POST and LARKIN BOOK 4 and FREELANCE TIME MANAGEMENT ARTICLE.

The stuff that goes into my active processing sessions—the ideas, for lack of a better word—takes shape during my passive processing sessions.

I set aside time to passively process.

As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to take a walk.

An hour-long walk, with no music and no podcasts.

During this time, my brain may suggest that I rework one of the sentences I just wrote.

My brain may also offer up a new idea for the next Larkin book.

Or—and this is just as important—my brain may simply take the time to rest.

If I don’t set aside time to passively process—to think without thinking, as it were—not only do I stop writing as well, but I also stop sleeping as well. I toss and turn while my mind churns, going over everything it could have resolved if I’d just gotten outside for a while.

I understand that not everybody can take an hour-long walk in the middle of the day, and not everybody can take an hour-long walk at the beginning or the end of the day.

Set aside the time you can.

Not only will it save you time later, but it will also allow you to complete the last step in the writing process.

When I write, I work without distraction.

The clock just chimed 2 p.m, and I just finished writing my 1,160th word—which means this last section will be a bonus.

Writing without distraction does in fact mean “writing without simultaneously checking your email.”

It also means “writing without taking a break every ten minutes to look at Twitter.”

It even means “writing with your phone set to Do Not Disturb.”

But those are all external distractions.

What working without distraction really means—and what I hope it can mean for you, too—is eliminating the internal distractions.

What’s for dinner gotta fix the water valve on the toilet don’t forget to send the birthday card when are you going to buy a new pair of sandals because your current pair is literally held together by duct tape should we start planning our summer trip to Chicago why has that one client not paid me yet who am I going to interview for the time management post where do I want to be with my career next year who do I want to be as a person why am I not there yet…

There is no way you can write 1,000 words an hour if those kinds of thoughts are in the way of the words you need to write.

Which means that my first goal, as a writer, is to put those thoughts somewhere.

If I were teaching a writing class right now, I’d start there.

Instead, I’ll end here—at 1,414 words, in one hour and thirteen minutes—and go for my walk.

We’ll continue this series next month.

Read the next guide, "How to Write Without Distractions" →

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About the Author

Nicole Dieker is a writer, teacher, and musician. She began her writing career as a full-time freelancer with a focus on personal finance and habit formation; she launched her fiction career with The Biographies of Ordinary People, a definitely-not-autobiographical novel that follows three sisters from 1989 to 2016.

Dieker writes the Larkin Day mystery series. She also maintains an active freelance career; her work has appeared in Vox, Morning Brew, Lifehacker, Bankrate, Haven Life, Popular Science, and more. Dieker spent five years as writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money.

Dieker lives in Quincy, Illinois with the great love of her life, his piano, and their garden.

nicoledieker.com

Copyright ©2023 by Nicole Dieker.

Published by Shortwave Magazine. First print rights reserved.

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