Speed Writing: The art of starting (and finishing) that essay

For many, writing an essay can be a difficult assignment. The blank page or white screen stares at you, mocking your lack of ambition to start writing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can write quickly and efficiently while still minimizing errors (and even giving yourself some time to edit).

Here’s how to do it.

  1. STOP EVERYTHING ELSE – That’s right, I mean everything. Silence your phone. Close your browsers. Stop eating that burrito.
  2. Plan out what you’re going to write – For some people, this means an outline. For others, it could mean just a simple list of things you want to talk about. However you do it, make sure you have a coherent plan for what you want to say and how you want to say it. If you don’t have a map, you’ll never know where you’re going. In writing, this planning stage is your map; don’t be caught without it.
  3. Start writing. Don’t stop. DO. NOT. STOP. – Just start writing. It doesn’t matter if you write the same sentence over and over again, just don’t let your fingers stop moving. Just keep writing and follow that map we’ve laid out in the last step. Hopefully, if you’ve thought enough about where you wanted to go in your essay, your ideas will flow naturally and you can just let your fingers do the work. Make sure that you don’t stop writing, no matter how silly some sentences may seem at the time. We’ll fix those later, you don’t need to worry about them right now. If you’re writing a longer piece, use something called the “Pomodoro Technique.” Using this, you’ll spend 25 minutes writing with a five minute break afterwards, then immediately back into another 25 minutes of writing. After four cycles, give yourself a fifteen minute break, then jump right back into the writing. It’s hard, but the results are worth it. Set a timer for yourself so you stay exactly on schedule.
  4. Take a break – No, this isn’t an excuse. Taking a step back from your writing is critical for you to be able to accurately assess what makes sense. If you go and try to edit what you’ve been writing immediately after completion, you’ll miss a lot of errors you wouldn’t normally miss if you gave yourself some time to decompress. This doesn’t need to be hours or days either; sometimes a few minutes works just as well (especially if you’re in a crunch for time).
  5. Edit like you’ve never edited before – For those of you who don’t normally edit papers you write, I suggest you start now. For me, this begins with reading what I’ve written out loud to myself. Some may call this crazy, but I call it solid process. When you read something you’ve written out loud, you hear sentences in ways you wouldn’t have if you’re just reading it in your head. What may sound lovely in your head sounds horrendous when read aloud. Next, fix all the spelling and grammar mistakes. Spellcheck is a useful tool, but it won’t catch everything. “These sentences has on spelling err butt when I reed it I can notice the errors I has mew.” Sentences like that won’t be picked up by spell-check, but can easily be fixed by a human actually reading what has been written. Don’t underestimate the power of a solid edit. Finally, look at your word choices and see if you can clean up segments that are unclear. If you need assistance with this step, ask someone to help you or take your paper to the writing center.
  6. Enjoy – You’ve done it! You’ve written a paper and it’s actually been edited.

See, for many people the most difficult part of a paper is starting it. The blank screen looms at you. However, if you eliminate distractions and just dive into writing with reckless abandon, it’s an easier start. Editing something is much less time consuming than procrastinating, and almost always leads to a better end product.