How To Write Faster With or Without an AI Assist

If only you could write faster …

The deadline pressure would lessen. The work volume wouldn’t overwhelm. The headache assignment would go away more quickly.

And generative AI only amplifies the stress. It just increases expectations — for both completion time and quality — for your human-written content.

But you can write faster. You can expeditiously deliver content that meets deadlines and delivers what your audience and brand want.

Here’s some help whether you’re writing articles, podcast scripts, or any other content asset:

1. Get organized

If you know where you need to go, you can get there more quickly. That’s why I like to create two Word files, one for the draft and one for the notes.

I label the first file “(TOPIC NAME) – DRAFT.”

At the top of the document, list and answer these questions:

Who will read this piece?

What will they get from this piece?

How will they consume this piece (e.g., company blog post, e-book, guest article)?

Where will they consume this piece (i.e., distribution channel)?

Why is the brand creating this piece?

How will the brand know if this piece is successful?

TIP: Create a template for your notes document so you can pull up the question format every time you start the content process.

By detailing the target audience, brand purpose, format, and metric, you can build your content on a solid foundation.

You also can speed up your writing by organizing the research as you go.

I label this document “(TOPIC NAME) – NOTES.” I typically use a single file, but if I have multiple interviews, I initially create a separate document for each and merge them later into the master notes file.

Label the top of each section (or document) with the source information. If it’s a person, include the name, title, and company. If it’s an online resource, include the URL. Use a format similar to what you’ll use in the article. For example, if you use a hyperlink in the text, list it that way in your notes. That way, you can just cut and paste the information into your draft.

TIP: Don’t forget to list any social handles, company sites, or bio links from the sources if you plan to include them in the content or need to provide them for promotional purposes.

Go through your notes and highlight key quotes or insights. Use the highlight feature, bold the words, or even type asterisks before the helpful quote so it stands out.

When tackling multiple sources or detailed information, I like to organize my notes by subheads or subtopics. Then, I put all the relevant content under each category. Just be sure to include the original source every time you shift the notes to a topical section.

AI assist: Use a generative AI tool to help you organize your notes. For example, input an interview transcript and ask it to give a summary. You could also ask it to break down the interview by topics.

When you record interviews using Zoom, it can create an AI-generated summary. Rev.com, the transcription service, offers a beta test of summary generation. I’ve used both, and they can be helpful in the preliminary stage of organizing my notes by hitting on the key themes and takeaways. I’m sure other AI tools can do this; these are just two I’ve used in my work.

With your research and notes all organized, you’re ready to write, right? Not quite.

2. Create the ‘write’ environment

Before you put your fingers on the keyboard or your voice to the writing recorder, you need to set yourself up for faster success.

Schedule time on your calendar (and schedule something immediately after)

Blocking out time to write not only prevents you from treating writing as an “I’ll-get-to-it-when-I-can” item. It also signals to co-workers and managers that you prioritize writing — and you’re not available for anything else during that time.

But don’t stop at scheduling a writing appointment. Also, schedule a call, meeting, or other must-do activity after your writing time. That creates a real deadline. If you know you must stop writing, you’re more likely to stop agonizing and get it done.

If you want to break down your scheduled time further, consider using a timer. The Marinara Timer (free) lets you do the Pomodoro technique (25-minute segments) or create custom times. The point is to write without stopping until the time is up.

I mix up my timer based on aspects of the writing project. For example, 10 minutes to create a lede or 25 minutes to craft the first section. I realize they’re artificial deadlines, but they help me shape my approach to writing and respect the time I’ve committed to getting the article done.

Minimize the distractions

Your computer screen can be a busy place. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Open only one browser window and add the tabs you need for writing. When I write, I create a tab with the AP Stylebook (paid), another tab for Thesaurus (free), another tab for ChatGPT (free), and an empty Google search screen.

If you need resources that live in your inbox, copy and paste them into a Word document and turn off your email. Otherwise, you’ll pop into your inbox for a file and find five new emails that you’ll just have to read.

Don’t forget to turn your phone to “do not disturb” so only those must-take calls or texts can get through. If you can’t give up your phone, at least turn it face down.

Close your door or put on headphones. If you need noise, pick music that blends with your work. I’m one who needs noise (after years of writing in a newsroom). When I really need to focus, I listen to classical music so I’m not distracted by the lyrics.

TIP: If you work in a space where co-workers or others might stop by, use headphones rather than earbuds. They’re a great visual indicator that will make potential visitors think twice about interrupting you.

3. Get writing

Revisit the answers to the questions added to the top of your DRAFT document to remind yourself about the audience and brand purpose.

Now you’re ready to write.

The key to writing faster? Don’t overthink it. You are not to edit. That is a separate stage in the process.

Not happy with a word choice? Move on. Waiting for creative inspiration to strike for the perfect lede? Realize perfect is impossible and better only happens when you’ve already written something. Unsure of a source’s title? Add six question marks so you make sure to revisit it later. The point? Don’t succumb to potential writing distractions.

Begin with the headline

Write three to five versions. Don’t stress about fitting the target keywords into it or whether it sufficiently grabs the reader’s attention. At this point, just write headlines that set the tone and focus of the article.

Move on to the introduction

Read through your notes to identify the most surprising, fascinating, helpful, or relevant aspect. Consider using that as your lede. Stuck for a great lede? Write “This article is about (TOPIC). You, the audience, will learn (XYZ)” as a placeholder. You can fix it later.

In the introduction, include a nut graph — a sentence or two describing the reason the story is being told now to this audience. This will set the stage for what the reader should expect.

AI assist: Struggling to write an intro and nut graph? Ask the AI tool to help. Share your primary interview or research and ask it to fill in the blanks in the sentence above. Ask it to craft a two-sentence paragraph about what story should be told. It could even help share something fascinating or surprising.

Write your subheads

Go back to your notes and pull your subtopic subheads, or create them now. Read through them a couple of times: (1) Are those the key topics this article should address? (2) Does their order make sense for the story being told?

AI assist: Once you complete the subhead organization, paste what you have into an AI tool and ask it to summarize the article. Also, ask it what topics are missing. Then, ask what, if anything, should be eliminated.

Take time to get this step right as it creates the structure for your content piece. Without a solid structure, you’ll spend a lot of time trying to shore up your argument so it doesn’t fall over.

Fill in below each subhead

Add the relevant details under each section head for each resource you collected. (If you did this in the notes organization stage, you likely just need to cut and paste it into the draft document.)

Write a conclusion or not

Similar to the lede advice, if you have a conclusion in mind based on the content and your call to action, write it. If not, wait to write the ending until you’ve revised the piece.

4. Move on to polishing

Now that your rough draft is complete, shift your mind to the polishing phase. Even if you have an editor, you want to submit content completed in a manner that you consider publishable.

To do that, go back to the beginning (well, almost the beginning).

Read through all the content that comes after the introduction

Take a couple of passes. Does it make sense as a whole? Does each section transition well to the next one?

AI assist: Put the draft into the generative AI tool and ask the same questions. It can help identify areas that you might not see because you’re too close to the material.

Delve into each subhead and the content below it

Does this section pack the biggest punch it can? Does each sentence lead into the next one? Could more specific or descriptive words be used to convey the thought, emotion, etc.? Are the verbs active? Is it easy to read?

Go back to the introduction and conclusion

With a well-executed main body, it’s time to craft a reader-enticing introduction that matches the article’s tone, flow, and narrative.

Now that you have an introduction, you can write (or edit) your conclusion. The best endings tie themselves to the beginning. They may summarize the article’s main points, lead the reader to the next logical step, or leave them inspired.

AI assist: In tandem with your human introduction and conclusion work, paste the original draft with the more generic lede into the AI tool. Ask it to write an introduction. Make sure to describe the kind of introduction you want. Should it be funny? Or should it be direct? What about creating a curiosity gap? Don’t limit yourself to one description. Ask for several variations.

Write a headline

With the article complete, it’s time to pick a headline. Make sure it grabs the reader’s attention AND accurately reflects what the article delivers. If none of the draft headlines fit those requirements, come up with a few more options. (A thesaurus comes in handy here.) Pick the best one for the reader.

AI assist: You can use a headline analyzer tool like CoSchedule (free and paid) to see if your potential headline delivers. You can also ask a generative AI tool like ChatGPT or Google’s Gemini to write a headline (after you paste the article onto the page). If it must include keywords, tell it that. In some cases, the headline results may deliver one that works perfectly. More likely, they can inspire you to create something even better.

You’ll still get writer’s block

I’m not naïve. Even when following these recommendations, you’ll run into writer’s block, delays, and missteps. But you don’t need to throw up your hands waiting for the writing gods to inspire and help you.

You need a plan of attack (i.e., a content marketing and research/resource plan) and a path to follow (i.e., a writing and editing process). Only then will you be in control of your content creation and be able to write effectively faster. And the more you do it, the better you’ll get and show the value of a human professional.

Updated from a March 2020 article.

All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute