Write Better Faster

Six tips and techniques

A recurring question I get from lawyers, law students, and other readers is how to implement the best writing advice while writing under harsh deadlines and heavy workloads. “I want to write better,” these lawyers say, “and I know the things you recommend are good. But I just don’t have the time.”

A variation of this question is this comment: “Even if I had the time, the client won’t want to pay my fee if I take the time necessary to implement all the writing techniques you recommend.” So the ultimate question is this: “How can I write better faster?”

I present here some  advice I usually give combined with the best ideas from real lawyers who deal with real clients and real deadlines.

Spend time on an outline. But outlining will slow things, down, right? No. A good outline, especially one that has complete sentences, will make the composing go faster, according to the author of The Psychology of Writing, Ronald Kellogg.[1] The more detailed the outline, the faster the composing will go. The better the outline, the less time you’ll have to spend re-ordering. The earlier you start the outline, the more payoff you’ll get from outlining.[2]

Learn to compose rapidly. Get a draft down fast by shutting out your internal editor or “judge.” Save editing for later. Just write, and write fast. Compose in quiet or after work hours, away from distractions. And try training yourself to type faster—75 words per minute at least. If you’re unable to improve your typing speed (and I’ll confess it’s been tough for me), try voice-recognition software. I once brought a major project in on time by speaking it into voice-recognition software. Yes, I was working from a detailed outline.

Raise your writing IQ. Attend legal-writing CLE courses, read books on legal writing, and study the best sources on English and legal-word usage. Your goal is to speed up both composing and editing. The more you know, the fewer writing slips you’ll make while composing. And although you’ll never consider a first draft a final product, your first drafts will get better and better. So then you’ll save time on editing, too.

Thoroughly understand the material (or write what you know). Writing goes faster if you know the subject well. For example, when I writing about legal writing, I zoom. When I write about a topic that’s new to me, I plod. It’s natural. So if you’re not consistently able to write about subjects you know well, you must master the material in order to write quickly.

Establish and stick to deadlines. Create and follow a routine for completing all major writing projects, with deadlines for researching, outlining, composing, and editing-revising. For editing, create an evolving checklist of everything you know you’ll need to check. As you raise your writing IQ and as you work and re-work your routine, your editing checklist will grow—but also shrink.

Stop making excuses. Don’t blame mediocre writing on short deadlines or heavy workloads. Find a way to make the time to edit and revise extensively; revising is the only way to make mediocre writing good and good writing great. Work late, work weekends, or eat the hours if you think the client won’t pay. Even decline projects if you must. But do the work necessary to produce a well-polished product. If you do it right every time, you’ll get faster at doing it right. If you never or rarely do it right, you won’t get faster.

I hope one or more of these techniques will work for you, so you can write better faster.

My books: Legal Writing Nerd: Be One, Plain Legal Writing: Do It.


[1] Ronald T. Kellogg, The Psychology of Writing 125-26, 130-31 (1994).

[2] Wayne Schiess, Should You Outline? Austin Lawyer 11 (Oct. 2015); Wayne Schiess, Outlining Effectively, Austin Lawyer 11 (Nov. 2015).